Eng vs NZ, 3rd ODI – David Willey does the donkeywork as thoroughbred Archer returns to haunt his World Cup dreams
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Eng vs NZ, 3rd ODI – David Willey does the donkeywork as thoroughbred Archer returns to haunt his World Cup dreams

It was a hospital pass. On the day that Jofra Archer linked up with England’s white-ball squad, training at the Kia Oval as he continues his rehabilitation from an elbow injury, David Willey found himself sitting in the indoor school, fielding questions from the media.

Four years ago, Archer was fast-tracked into England’s ODI squad in the weeks before the World Cup and Willey was squeezed out as a result. As Archer bowled England to the trophy in the final against New Zealand at Lord’s, Willey “shed a tear” while watching on TV, and assumed his international career was over.

It is to Willey’s credit that he finds himself in England’s provisional squad for the 2023 tournament. He has 36 ODI wickets at 22.19 in the last four years; in this World Cup cycle, only Adil Rashid has more. He has also contributed with the bat and in the field, and has impressed in the first half of the ongoing four-match series against New Zealand.

Archer bowled off his full run on a practice strip on Tuesday morning, before rolling out some left-arm spin and having a short hit in the nets later in England’s training session. “He looks in a good place,” Willey said. “I don’t know where he’s at, fitness-wise, but he’s bowling good wheels out there today.”

It remains unlikely that Archer will feature in England’s finalised World Cup squad but his involvement in training suggests that he is on course to fly to India as a travelling reserve, allowing England to monitor his progress in his recovery and draft him into their squad in the event of an injury to a frontline seamer.

Speaking last month, selector Luke Wright said that England had “run out of time” in their bid to get Archer fit for the World Cup: “There is a duty of care with him. We have to make sure that, long term, we get it right… If something miraculous happens with him, we have time to change things but I just don’t see it happening.”

If Archer does not make it back in time for the World Cup, he could feature on England’s white-ball tour to the Caribbean in December, where they are due to play three ODIs and five T20Is. They will also hope he is fit enough to play a role in their defence of the T20 World Cup next June.

As for Willey, his recent fitness record is the best of the six seamers England named in their provisional squad, and he repeatedly referred to himself as “a donkey” while speaking to the press. “Me staying fit, touch wood, is probably an asset to the group, with guys who sometimes struggle with niggles and things,” he said.

“Call me a donkey if you want, but to take a donkey out to what could be a tough trip, you just might need a donkey. They keep going, donkeys, don’t they?” When discussing England’s squad, he joked: “We’ve got pretty well everything covered – and you’ve got the donkey as well.”

Despite his performances in the build-up, Willey will not believe his place at the World Cup is secure until he leaves for India. “Until you’re on that flight out there you can’t rest on your laurels,” he said. Asked specifically about the possibility of being cut from the squad at the last minute, he said: “Hopefully not.

“Goodness me, that would be a tough one to take… [but] it is professional sport, and things do change. I made a promise to myself that I’d play every game for England as if it was my last and I try and do that now. Things change and, if it changes for me, then it’s nothing I haven’t been through before.”

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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