Paul Nixon column – Westley has look of future England Test star

Tom Westley has not been selected in England’s squad for the first Test against Sri Lanka, but if he carries on in the form he’s in, it won’t be long before he’s a fully fledged Three Lions player.

It’s not impossible that he will become the first man since Graeme Hick in 1988 to reach 1,000 first-class runs in England before the end of May.

Of course, Jonny Bairstow isn’t far behind, having played two fewer innings, but that’s taking nothing away from Tom.

Tom is the leading run-scorer in the country and made a century against the touring Sri Lankans this year, having reached three figures facing a strong Australian attack last summer.

He was spotted very early and Essex gave him the opportunity to impress. He’s come through with a good pedigree having been at Durham University and I remember playing against him when he was a kid and thought he was very organised and an extremely good leg-side player.

He went quiet for a couple of years, but this could be his proper awakening and he could prove himself to be a consistent match-winner for Essex.

A lot of credit must be given to Essex, though. They’re the leaders in giving youngsters a chance, and they’re a big club. The last couple of years they have played on sporting wickets, which are unlike the old flat pitches at Chelmsford.

They’ve gone back to more ‘batter friendly’ pitches, being a bit more old school, and that is food and drink for players with the class of Tom.

This week, he impressed without having Alastair Cook alongside him. Of course, Cook hasn’t been there for most of his career, but the pressure was all on Alastair so Tom went slightly under the radar.  To go and do it against Sri Lanka’s international attack, without that experience alongside him, just shows that he has the right mentality to succeed.

That game, like most others this week, ended in a draw, but it wasn’t through lack of trying.

There were a lot of teams like Sussex and Somerset in winning positions, who would have wrapped the game up had it not been for the weather and I think we are beginning to see captains and batsmen realise what is needed to win a game this summer.

It takes time to settle into the season, and because there is a lot of rain around, it’s more common to have a bad session.

You can end up sitting on your backside for a few hours and you might not be in the right mindset to perform.

The body gets stiff and it’s about who keeps composure and who finds it within themselves to go and deliver their skills.

At this stage of the season, you don’t want to be spending all your downtime or spare time in the indoor nets when you’re meant to be on the field.

You feel like you want to practise, but you can only do so much. If you’re going indoors, you can only do the real basic drills. The surfaces are so false indoors that it can get you into bad habits when you go outside.

It’s fine if you want to work on your back-foot game but, in the early season, you have to exaggerate your feet when coming forwards and let the ball come under your nose. When indoors you find you don’t have to move your feet, yet you can still blast it everywhere.

It’s a catch-22 situation. You feel like you want to go and hit balls because you’ve got the enthusiasm and adrenaline, but actually you’ve got to trust that you’ll be all right.

It’s a balancing act for coaches. You don’t want players to be hitting balls for the sake of it. I was a classic for that when I was young, because I loved it so much. But you need to be really specific and ensure you have an ‘end goal’.

Practice is everything, though. It gives you the trust that you can play well and ensure a calmness in your technique. With your practice you put yourself out in the middle, but it’s important not to do it just for the sake of it.

This is the quiet time of the season, before the T20 Blast and One-Day Cup get into swing, and you don’t want to be burning yourself out before the end of May.

Little bits of time off, however, are great. You can get yourself in the gym, do a bit of banking and just organise your life. Cricket will always be at the back of your mind, but if you can keep fresh mentally at this time of the season, then you’re in good shape for the rest of the summer.

This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, Friday May 13 2016

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