Willey announced before England’s defeat to Australia in Ahmedabad last week that he would quit international cricket after this tournament at the age of 33. He was told in September that he had not been offered a central contract for 2023-24, then learned that he was the only member of the World Cup squad without an offer.
He was incensed, and soon decided that he was no longer interested in feeling like “a third wheel” as a fringe player. He said that constant uncertainty over his schedule had taken its toll on him, his wife and their two children, and has therefore opted to “take control”.
Willey started the World Cup running the drinks for England but replaced Sam Curran for their fourth match, a 229-run loss to South Africa in Mumbai, and has played every game since. He finished the tournament with 11 wickets at 23.54, second only to Adil Rashid in England’s squad, and signed off with 3 for 56 in his 10 overs.
“It was mixed emotions,” Willey said. “My time is done… but it’s with deep regret. Anybody looking in has probably looked at the way I’ve gone about my business and [seen that I am] probably playing the best cricket of my career. I’m 33, as fit as I’ve ever been.
“One of the reasons that I wasn’t offered a contract was them going in a different direction after the World Cup – I don’t know why [they are]. It’s been a period for some time now… not knowing quite where I stand with England and it’s just taken its toll, and becomes very tiring.”
Willey believes he would have been able to play a valuable role for England at the T20 World Cup next June, had he been offered a contract. “[If there is] an injury or two, they’re going to be calling on someone with very little to no experience in World Cups,” he said.
“Never say never, but right now, I’m very confident [in] my decision that today was my last game of cricket for England. Do I want to go to the Caribbean and run drinks, and not know where I stand, and just feel like a third wheel again – which is very much what I felt like when I turned up at Lord’s, being the only one without a contract? Probably not, so I’m done.”
Willey said he had doubts over whether he should travel to India after learning that he was the only squad member without a central contract: “I wasn’t sure whether I was going to come to the World Cup, even to the 11th hour. The morning that we were joining up at Lord’s, I still wasn’t sure whether I’d make the trip or not.”
He added: “From then on, it [retirement] was something that was on my mind. It’s not just that I haven’t been offered a contract; it’s how I feel valued as an England player, when I look down that list of other guys that have got contracts… I came to the decision that the time was right for me to call it a day.”
“On the phone to my wife this morning, she said, ‘Go on – just get to 100 wickets. It’d be a nice way to finish,'” he said. “To do that was a nice way for me personally [to sign off].”
He said he wanted to leave international cricket on his own terms, and hoped that he had proved Rob Key – who, as managing director, was ultimately responsible for central contract offers – wrong. “Keysy said to me, ‘I hope you can prove me wrong.’ Maybe I’ve done it over the last few games,” Willey said.
“The timing [of his retirement announcement], people may have looked at it and frowned upon my timing there. But for me personally, there’s not many opportunities you get to walk away from [international] cricket on your terms, and I wanted to really enjoy my last three games of cricket [for England] and play without looking over my shoulder, thinking, ‘One bad performance and I’m out of the side.'”
Willey will continue to play domestic and franchise cricket. He captains Northamptonshire in the T20 Blast and has a contract with Abu Dhabi Knight Riders for the ILT20 in January-February. He is also likely to be retained by Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, and by Welsh Fire in the Hundred.
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98