All-rounder proved the unlucky man to miss out once Jofra Archer became eligible for England despite spending four years in the mix of the one-day team
All-rounder Willey was named in the provisional squad only to be ditched on the eve of the competition, which ended with the newly-qualified Archer delivering the decisive super over as the hosts triumphed at Lord’s.
For 15 players and Trevor Bayliss’ backroom team the historic result was the glorious culmination of a four-year journey but for Willey, watching on television, it was a bittersweet moment and a reminder of what might have been.
He had, after all, played 46 one-day internationals between World Cups and been a near constant presence during the rebirth of England’s 50-over cricket.
“I remember sitting down in 2015 at Edgbaston, we were talking about this being the group of players going to the World Cup. But it’s professional sport: you’re flavour of the month one minute and when things change you’re moved to the side,” said Willey, who has just embraced a fresh challenge as Yorkshire’s new Twenty20 captain.
“I wasn’t under any illusions, obviously Archer was going to come in and someone was going to miss out. He’s a brilliant cricketer.
“I hadn’t been playing very well and hadn’t been playing regularly, so I knew I was in the one or two lads it was going to be. I was utterly disappointed but I wasn’t surprised it was me who got the call.
“That doesn’t mean it hurt any less. I remember shedding a tear during the final, I’d been a part of that group of lads for four years so it was hard to watch. But I was absolutely delighted for the lads I’d been with in that time and it was absolutely brilliant for English cricket.
“I messaged every single lad that was a part of that group in that final. I think most of them replied but there was a few lads that didn’t respond.”
If that last detail rankles, Willey chooses not to linger on it. Instead, after a winter of rest and contemplation, he is focused on his new leadership role at Headingley.
Having struggled with burnout at the tail-end of the 2019 campaign he is full of excitement about the prospect of captaining his adopted county.
If all goes well, he even hopes to force his way back into the reckoning for the Twenty20 World Cup in Australia later this year.
Sam Curran has currently usurped him as a left-arm seamer and lower-order hitter but it remains a lowly-populated niche. For now, though, both he and England appear to have moved on.
“I got a phone call from the selectors saying they were trying a few other options for New Zealand (in November) and I’ve heard nothing since. I haven’t heard anything from anyone, to be honest,” he said.
“I want to play at the highest level possible. I’m 30 soon but I don’t feel by any means my England career is over and I actually feel like my best cricket is to come.
“But I’ve parked that for the time being. I changed my focus: play cricket here at Yorkshire, score runs, take wickets. If I get a phone call, great. If not, so be it. It gives me a new focus and it’s come at the perfect time in my career.
“I have taken stock over winter and I’m genuinely buzzing for the summer.”
Source: Rory Dollard