David Willey has conceded he has a fight on his hands to claim an England spot in the Champions Trophy but retains the belief his left-arm swing has more depth to it than simply being a threat with the new ball.
The 27-year-old was frustrated with his two performances against Ireland at the start of the international summer, where he picked up the early wicket of Ed Joyce during the rout in Bristol but sent down just three overs to the tune of 23 runs in the follow-up win at Lord’s.
It was the latter, when Eoin Morgan did not return to him after that costly opening burst, that raised questions over Willey’s place in the first-choice XI, not least since the return of Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes from the Indian Premier League – and the likelihood of Moeen Ali being recalled – leaves him, Liam Plunkett, Mark Wood and Jake Ball jostling for two berths.
“I bowled poorly against Ireland, which is disappointing, because you could view that series as a shootout,” Willey said. “I just bowled too many bad balls up front and leaked too many runs. It’s disappointing but I’m fairly honest with myself.
“That’s cricket, and if someone gets the nod ahead of me then I hope they do well. It’s a squad effort, so I will no doubt get another opportunity. We have a good selection of bowlers at the minute so it will be interesting to see who they go with.”
Much of the talk over Willey’s efficacy centres around his ability to come back after the ball has lost its shine and he has bowled out his full allocation of overs only seven times in his 27 one-day internationals.
England are relaxed about this statistic and point to the fact 21 of his 33 victims have been top-three batsmen – a handy asset within the luxury of their six-man attack.
It is worth noting too that six out of the last seven teams to win a global 50-over tournament have contained at least one left-arm seamer, while England’s sole trophy to date – the World Twenty20 win in Barbados seven years ago – owed much to Ryan Sidebottom’s role in the attack.
Willey, who will hope for another chance to impress in the three-match series with South Africa next week, has spent the last year gleaning information from Sidebottom at Yorkshire and believes the southpaw factor gives him a point of difference over his rivals.
“Left-arm is a different angle. Up front my main asset is swinging the new ball but if it’s not swinging, I don’t think I’m completely out of the game – and I have variations too. I’m not express pace but I think I can do a job,” he said.
Willey’s natural pace – in the low 80s – is something he believes can possibly increase following an operation on his left shoulder to fix a tendon tear in February. “My shoulder feels the best it has ever felt – I’m almost trying to work out how to bowl with a decent shoulder because I’ve had problems for the best part of five years.
“It’s new to me and I just need to get used to bowling again. I’m still not quite where I’d like to be with my bowling but it takes a little bit of time.”
England’s coaching staff rate Willey as a “three-in-one” cricketer when factoring in his aggressive approach to fielding and batting. Internationally, he has yet to match one of his three white-ball domestic hundreds but an unbeaten 20 against Afghanistan during last year’s World Twenty20 was pivotal to England’s ride to the final – a campaign he views as proof they can challenge in the Champions Trophy, which starts on 1 June at The Oval.
Willey added: “We might be favourites this summer. To be fair, in the World T20 I don’t think we were considered among the top four but I always felt we were favourites. We have an unbelievable squad with match-winners throughout.
“I have really enjoyed playing under Eoin Morgan. At any stage of any game of any competition he’s no different. When he’s at mid-off, and you are there at the top of your mark with your beans going, it’s great to bounce ideas off him – he brings you down and gives you clarity. He’s been brilliant leading us and all the experience we have built up under him in the past two years has been invaluable.”