After the spectacular way in which they reclaimed the Ashes with a game to spare, England might be mistaken for a team with few weaknesses. Yet there are still matters to be addressed for national selector James Whitaker, the most obvious being to find a genuine spinner to replace Graeme Swann. There is one unfilled vacancy, however, that goes back much further.
Not since Ryan Sidebottom last played Test cricket in 2010 have England been able to call on a left-arm seamer of international calibre, which is why the next month could be pivotal for David Willey.
The Northamptonshire all-rounder announced himself to a wider audience with a magnificent display in the 2013 Twenty20 final at Edgbaston, hitting the fastest 50 of the season and finishing off Surrey with a hat-trick as his county defied their status as rank outsiders to win their first silverware in 21 years.
Naturally aggressive with the strength to clear the boundary with the bat and the skill to swing the new ball into right-handed batsmen, he takes on Sussex in the first quarter-final of the NatWest Blast at Hove this evening.
The 25-year-old son of former England all-rounder Peter was picked for the last three matches of the one-day series against New Zealand this summer. He dismissed Martin Guptill with his second ball and ended with the team’s best strike rate.
Then he took 3 for 22 off 14 balls in the solitary T20 against the Kiwis, this time snaring Guptill with his third delivery. Should he perform as impressively in the T20 and one-day matches against Australia next month he will be one step closer to earning a Test call-up.
But Willey faces a dilemma over his future, knowing that his goal of overhauling his dad’s tally of 26 Test caps is much more likely to happen if he leaves Wantage Road for a county in the First Division.
It is rumoured that Northamptonshire have agreed to release him with a year of his contract still to run. Yorkshire, who signed his former county team-mate Jack Brooks in 2013, are said to be keen suitors. Speaking at the NatWest Under-15 club championship finals at Oundle School, he denied any knowledge of such an agreement but admitted he would consider moving if the chance was offered.
“If I had to leave Northants it would be a huge disappointment,” he said. “All I wanted to do when I was growing up was to follow my dad and play for Northants. We lived just around the corner from the ground. As a kid I was always there and when they gave me the chance to play professional cricket I felt it was a real honour.
“To have played a part in them winning a first trophy for 21 years will stay with me forever. But I have to be honest, Northants is a small county with a small squad. It means you have got the same guys playing in every fixture of the season and you cannot compete in all three formats and keep yourself fit for the duration of the season.
“That has been a problem for me over the last two years. To play my best cricket I need to stay fit, and to be looked after injury-wise it may be in my interests to move on.
“I have ambitions to play for England in Test cricket. I’ve scored a couple of hundreds in four-day cricket this year but I’m not the finished article. I want to win across all three formats and play for England in all three formats. If that means I have to move to play with better cricketers day in, day out with a bigger club in Division One, it is something I will have to consider.”
All England players have been made available for the quarter-finals but Alastair Cook will not play for Essex against Warwickshire on Thursday.Reuse content