David Willey has called on the ECB to provide more clarity about its new 100-ball competition, because he feels that the uncertainty about the future of English domestic cricket has been a significant factor in Yorkshire’s turbulent year off the field.
The club managed to avoid relegation in the final round of this season’s County Championship after picking up two decisive bonus points against Worcestershire, but it has nevertheless been a torrid campaign for a side that won back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015.
And Willey, who has been out of action with a back injury that forced him to miss the forthcoming England ODI series in Sri Lanka, blamed the fact that both the county and its players had been left “in the dark” about the sport’s landscape post-2020, and therefore unable to resolve a raft of outstanding contract issues.
“About seven or eight of our guys have been out of contracts which makes it difficult,” Willey told ESPNcricinfo. “It’s been a bit of a turbulent year with the club going through a bit of a transitional phase but most of the guys have now signed at Yorkshire, or moved on.”
Of those players, two dressing-room stalwarts, fast bowlers Liam Plunkett and Jack Brooks, have decided to move on to pastures new. And though Adil Rashid last week agreed terms to play in all forms of cricket next season, his new deal is for one year only, and came at the end of a long stand-off that had put several counties on alert to snap up the services of an established England player.
“There’s been some issues over the past couple of years there, but there’s no denying Rash’s quality, and to have him at Yorkshire is brilliant,” Willey said. “We’re very fortunate there’s been a togetherness in the group still, but on an individual level, it can be very draining when you are dealing with uncertainty off the field, particularly guys who’ve got family and set their roots down in Yorkshire. It’s the nature of sport but it doesn’t mean that it’s any easier.
“It’s obviously very disappointing to lose guys like Plunkett and Brooksy, who’ve made great contributions on and off the field, but it creates opportunities for younger guys and new guys who’ve been brought in. Hopefully that will settle down over the winter, the squad will start to gel again, and they’ll hit the ground running next year.”
Another issue for Yorkshire this season was late call-ups to the IPL, with Willey and Plunkett leaving at short notice for spells in the T20 league. While that may have played a part in Plunkett’s departure, Willey agreed a new contract in June – albeit for one year only as well.
After playing a key role in the England side that reached the final of the World T20 at Kolkata in 2016, Willey was speaking at the launch of the Cricket World Cup Schools Programme, which aims to take the game to 1 million children in the next year. However, he was notably sceptical when asked his views on The Hundred, the proposed new format for which the ECB has been conducting trials in men’s and women’s matches at Trent Bridge and Loughborough this month.
“It sounded like there were two five-ball overs from one end or something,” he said. “They say when Twenty20 cricket came in it was different … well, the rules were the same but it was just a shorter format. Now with this 100-ball format, whatever it’s going to look like, its completely different which personally I’m not too sure about.
“No-one quite knows the landscape of English cricket over the next few years,” Willey added. “I think people are just sitting in and waiting for next year and seeing what happens, and that’s the same for counties as well.
“I’d like a bit more clarity on quite what’s going on – what it’s going to look like, and whether people then start going down a white-ball route because of this new competition. We’re in the dark as to how it’s going to pan out, and the more clarity the sooner, the better.”
By contrast, Willey said that he could have no complaints about the communication he had received from the England management, ever since it was confirmed that he would miss the Sri Lanka tour due to bone bruising in his back.
“The communication has been brilliant,” he said. “We know where we stand, and if I was fit, I’d be on that tour to Sri Lanka. So all being well, I’ll be back fighting fit. I see it as a mental break, as well as a physical one, to get me nice and fresh coming into the rest of the winter.
“To miss out now is very disappointing, especially this close to a World Cup, but hopefully I can get back fit, go well over the winter ahead of the West Indies tour, and put my name back in the frame. The timing is never great for injuries but I’ll take this one on the chin.”