COUNTY VS IPL
David Willey played three games for CSK in IPL 2018. © Getty
England left-arm seamer David Willey thinks counties need to be open minded about their players playing in the IPL after his club, Yorkshire, threatened to “rip up his contract” when he raised the prospect of playing for Chennai Super Kings in this year’s tournament.
Willey was not originally picked up in the IPL auction but instead signed for the Super Kings as an injury replacement in early April, just a few days before the county season began. The late call-ups of Willey and Liam Plunkett, who joined Delhi Daredevils, incensed Yorkshire’s Director of Cricket Martyn Moxon who said at the time that the club was in an “impossible position”.
If Yorkshire refused to allow Willey and Plunkett to sign an IPL deal, it risked upsetting the players and ruining their relationship with the club. But if they let them go, the county were unexpectedly left without two of their best bowlers late in the day when their preparations had been built around having them both available. Moxon raised the issue at a meeting of county representatives at Edgbaston in April, proposing a cut-off date after which county players would not be able to sign an IPL deal.
When Willey first discussed the opportunity to play in the IPL with Yorkshire’s management, he says they “threatened…ripping my contract up” which, in somewhat of an understatement, he says “wasn’t great”.
Relations are smoother now and a year’s contract extension is close to being signed but Willey thinks the falling out could have been avoided.
“I think the landscape of the modern game is changing and I do think that counties should try and work with it rather than work against it and look at the longer term picture,” he says. “Ultimately, you would think that their counties will benefit from it whether it be immediately that summer when they come back and contribute to winning games or whether they go on and help develop youngsters down the line.
“There is no better way for young guys to learn than to play with experienced guys who have played all around the world. If counties had that outward look at these competitions as a longer term benefit it would be better for everyone involved. There would be less arguments and fallouts along the way. You don’t get the chance to go and play in the biggest T20 competition in the world everyday so it was a no brainer for me.”
Willey only played three games in India but credits his stint at the IPL with rekindling his love for the game. “It was a great experience to be a part of, having the chance to see how these great internationals of past and present go about their cricket and how they structure their game for T20. I feel like not only have I found my enjoyment for the game again, I’ve also learnt a lot from a tactical, mental and skill point of view as well.”
Super Kings captain MS Dhoni was a particular influence. “I learnt just as much from watching guys like him as I did from the few games I played in,” Willey says. “How calm he is and how he thinks about the game when he is batting was great to learn from. Things like that are invaluable when you are learning about the game.”
Willey is well travelled, having also spent time with Perth Scorchers during last year’s Big Bash. There, he played alongside Andrew Tye, a key part of Australia’s attack on their current ODI tour of England. Tye took 2 for 42 in the first match at the Oval and his repertoire of slower balls and knuckle balls were on full display.Australian captain Tim Paine reckons Tye has 22 different variations and Willey too is trying to become a more varied bowler by working on a knuckle ball, although it isn’t yet ready to be used in a game. “You need to have different variations in white ball cricket, it is crucial to be able to combat the flat pitches, and playing in different environments means you need to develop your game to cope in different ways,” Willey says.
‘My greatest asset is swinging the ball so I’ve got to give it a chance’ © Getty
After a chastening experience during England’s defeat to Scotland when he conceded 72 runs from ten wicketless overs, Willey had a better time of things in the first match of the five-match series against Australia on Wednesday(June 13). He removed Travis Head early with the ball and then saw a nervy England home to their victory with 35 not out from number eight, his highest score in ODIs. Given Willey’s exploits with the bat in county cricket – his last two one-day innings for Yorkshire were 71 and 131 – such a low career best is a surprise and he admits he has “underachieved” at the top level with willow in hand.
However, part of the reason for that may be because the roles he plays for club and for country are so different. “It can be tough,” he says of having to adjust between being a top order player for Yorkshire and a lower order player for England. “It very often takes me a while to get going when I get out there and when you come into bat at the end you haven’t really got the opportunity to take a bit of time and find your feet. It is a different role and it requires a different set of skills to what I do back at Yorkshire.
“When I’m at Yorkshire my preferred role is higher up the order so if I’ve got the chance to do that I will never turn it down. With England I’ve just got to keep working and developing my game for the latter stages of an innings and try to find my feet with that role as best I can. We’ve got a brilliant batting line-up and I’ve got no expectation of going higher up the order, not to say that I wouldn’t love to do it. With the side we’ve got and the success we’ve had, there’s no need for us to make any changes there.”
Before the game against Australia, Willey had failed to take a wicket in ten of his last 16 ODIs. While he is the sort of three-dimensional cricketer that is so useful in the modern one-day game, Willey is conscious that his main role as England’s only genuine swing bowler is to take early scalps. “I need to make sure I am swinging that new ball and taking wickets inside that powerplay,” he admits. A fuller length is perhaps the answer to his recent struggles. “My bowling over the past six to 12 months, I’ve bowled a fraction short so I tried to bowl a little bit fuller yesterday which meant I got driven a few times. But my greatest asset is swinging the ball so I’ve got to give it a chance and I got my reward.
“You have to force yourself to get it up there. People often talk about me trying to find some extra pace but when I do that I often lose that sideways movement which is my greatest asset, so it is about finding an optimum pace for me to keep swinging that white ball.”
England have made a stuttering start to the limited overs portion of their summer. The reality check in Edinburgh was followed by a less than convincing run chase against Australia but there are still 22 games left before next year’s World Cup to hone their game. “There are still some areas we need to improve on but getting a win [at the Oval] was the most important thing. It is great for the side that even when we are not playing at our very best we can still win games of cricket,” Willey says.
“We’ve been gearing up for the World Cup for a while and the closer it comes, the more we want to be refining our skills and knowing what our plans are. Every time we’re out there we are trying to do our best. It doesn’t always come off as we’d like which is sport, but the World Cup is at the back of our minds and we’re trying to play the best cricket we can, game in game out, so we hit that tournament at full throttle.”