Jim Lyon – Northamptonshire boy Willey brings more than just cricketing ability

Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.
Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.

About four-and-a-half years ago I watched a young man make his first-class debut for Northamptonshire.

On the first day of the 2009 season the County went to Leicestershire and, having put on 60-odd for the first wicket, they lost five men for 45 runs and found themselves in the poop a little.

At which point in walked the aforementioned youth. He went on to make 60 and share in a partnership of 163 with Andrew Hall.

Northamptonshire had rescued the situation and David Willey had announced himself on the professional cricket scene.

James Whitaker, who was part of the England selection set-up - was making a visit to the press box. He suddenly got very interested and wanted all the information he could glean on Willey junior.

Sitting in less comfort was the ever-superstitious Willey senior - Northamptonshire hero, Peter - who confessed to me later he was afraid to move for fear of jinxing his son’s progress despite having ‘needed a pee for an hour and a half’.

I mention all this, not for the chance to reminisce about a chilly Grace Road afternoon, but to highlight a feature that was immediately obvious about David Willey.

He had ‘something’.

Weaker souls may not have succeeded the way he did that day. It was almost as though he relished the situation.

Progress to becoming a key man in the Northamptonshire first-team has not necessarily been completely smooth.

There have, at times, been lengthy and largely inexplicable absences from the senior side.

But over the last couple of years Willey has again shown he has the knack of producing big performances at big moments - a feature that is built into the character and cannot be taught.

Which is one of the main reasons why it was such good news for Northamptonshire that he signed a new deal with the club yesterday.

There are other reasons, though.

Talent aside, Willey brings more to the County.

David Smith used the word ‘marketable’ to describe him which is correct.

He has the confidence to speak his mind which, in the climate of anodyne sporting comment that exists at the moment, makes him a welcome commodity to many.

His acerbic comments at the post-match press conference after the Twenty20 final left several open mouthed and sent former New Zealand international Iain O’Brien from the room in hysterics begging him to never change.

And there is another thing, nothing of his doing, that is also important. His place of birth.

Clubs should never underestimate how important it is to fans to have ‘one of their own’ out on the pitch.

It is the Shearer Factor.

Had he been ‘Alain Tondre’ he could have scored as many goals for Newcastle but would not have been as loved. Being a geordie mattered.

Closer to home few players at Northampton Saints have been as popular with the Franklin’s Gardens faithful in recent years as Paul Diggin and Harvey Thorneycroft - both born in the county town.

A local lad will always be hailed more and, as is equally important at times, more readily forgiven.

So to have a Northamptonshire lad leading from the front in a successful Northamptonshire side can only be a good thing.

Now hopefully there will be at least three more years of David Willey showing that certain something for his home county.