With all but one of England’s games at the Twenty20 World Cup to be played in the evening, the team have taken extreme measures to prepare for the amount of dew that is expected to fall after sunset – as well as the amount of sweat their players are likely to produce – including dunking balls in buckets of water during training so they are as slippery as is likely on matchday.
“We’ve got to think about how we’re going to keep our hands dry, keep our arms dry, dry the ball and also be able to bowl with a wet ball,” David Willey says, as England prepare to open their campaign against West Indies in Dubai on Saturday.
“It’s something we’ll certainly be preparing for, even if it’s just dunking balls in buckets and catching, fielding and bowling with these wet balls. Once you start sweating you just can’t stop, you just get saturated from head to toe. We’ll get some more towels on the way to change them every over for the lads that are heavy sweaters, and sweat bands and things. It’s not going to go away so it’s just about putting things in practice to make sure we’re comfortable holding the ball and delivering our skills when the ball is wet.
“For spinners, if they’re trying to grip the ball, it’s going to be a challenge if it’s soaking wet. The pitches have typically been slow and difficult against spin through the middle overs, so they’re going to play and they’re a big part of our game. I think the biggest thing for the seamers, towards the back end when you’re sweating the most, is being confident about bowling yorkers.
“The margin for error when you’re doing that is so small and you can become a bit more nervous when the ball is wet. All you can do is practice, and put things in place to try and keep your hands dry and keep the ball as dry as possible. It’s going to be a challenge, but we’ve discussed it and we’re doing everything we can.”
Willey has had mixed experiences at recent World Cups, having been the pick of England’s bowlers as they lost a dramatic 2016 Twenty20 final before being named in the preliminary squad for the 2019 50-over version only to be dropped from the final selection that went on to win the title at home. Having recovered from that low point he is approaching his third World Cup experience with a fresh outlook.
“I don’t think anything that happens in my cricketing career will ever be as bad as that,” he says. “To be part of it for four years and miss out was obviously disappointing but I think my personal growth thereon, just refocusing on enjoying my cricket, has been massive for me. It’s probably why I’m sat here today, back playing for England. Leading up to that World Cup I was looking over my shoulder, thinking: ‘If I don’t get a five-for, if my economy’s not really good, I’m probably going to be out of the team.’ You end up not enjoying your time there when you’re putting yourself under so much pressure. Now I’m playing every game as if it’s my last and really savouring the moment of pulling on that England shirt. When I am finished playing for England, whenever that may be, I want to finish with fond memories.”
Despite the manner of England’s defeat in the 2016 final, one thing Willey already has fond memories of is playing West Indies. His bowling average for England across 50- and 20-over matches is 28.5 but against West Indies it is 15.9, by some margin the best record of any side he has faced more than once, and he hopes he can particularly threaten their left-handers, who include the destructive Shimron Hetmyer and Chris Gayle.
“The ball swinging away from the left-handers can be dangerous in all formats,” he says. “And in the white-ball game when they’re looking to be aggressive, that might go in my favour. The last time I played them I did alright, albeit I did best with slower balls. Hopefully that’ll swing in my favour for getting the nod for that first game.”