Chris Stocks speaks to Essex’s Tom Westley about life in the top flight and an England call-up
For the past two summers Tom Westley has averaged above 50 in County Championship cricket, and scored hundreds in tour matches against Sri Lanka and Australia.
That form could, and possibly should, have seen him earn a call-up into England’s Test team.
However, the constant refrain – and excuse – was the fact his runs, which totalled 1,217 last season, were devalued because they came in Division Two of the Championship.
However, with Essex back in Division One for the first time in seven years following promotion last summer, Westley has the chance to prove once and for all he has what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
Now 28, the Cambridge-born batsman is no youngster. His experience, though, means he is well equipped to deal with the challenges that await over the coming months, starting with Essex’s season-opener against Lancashire at Chelmsford today.
“I do agree with the fact if you score runs in Division One they should go a little further than runs in Division Two, otherwise what’s the point of having split divisions?” says Westley.
“Hopefully this year, if I can repeat what I did last year, I will have a stronger case to eventually play for England.
“It would be an absolute honour. I’ll try my best and try to score as many runs as I can, but having played for a few years now, I’ve learned that I can’t dwell on things that are out of my control.”
Westley’s 108 against the touring Sri Lankans last May, which came ten months after another century against Australia at Chelmsford during which he launched spinner Nathan Lyon into the River Can, saw him come agonisingly close to a Test call-up for the first Test series of last summer.
“I received a call from (national selector) James Whitaker just before the Sri Lanka series saying that I was spoken about, discussed, but I’m not going to be included,” said Westley.
“He said just keep doing what you’re doing and I think that’s all I can do – try to score as many runs as I can.
“It was nice and it was also really nice with the Lions (in Sri Lanka) this winter that an England selector in Angus Fraser came to watch the tour.
It feels good if you’re scoring runs in a climate around those sort of guys because you can push your claim.”
Westley’s winter for the Lions was profitable, if, as he termed it, “frustrating”. Two scores in the 90s plus another half-century in the unofficial Test series against Sri Lanka A showcased his ability, if not his killer instinct.
Yet he is hoping this summer to reap the benefits of his work with Andy Flower, the former England coach, during that tour.
Flower, who finished his playing career at Essex when Westley was in the club’s academy, and Chris Silverwood, the current coach at Chelmsford, were leading the Lions in Sri Lanka.
Westley says: “Andy was head coach there and Chris Silverwood assistant, so it was just like being back at Chelmsford!
“Andy was just trying to find a way of repeating my form with Essex for the Lions. We had good chats about the same thing – nothing changes, the processes are still the same and so I did a lot of my batting preparation with him – Andy with the dog stick which was a bit dangerous at times!
“It was just good to work with him.”
As for Essex, Westley says the club have set no targets for the coming season, their first in Division One since 2010, and could just as easily win the title as be relegated.
“From the outside looking in you can see how talented we are on paper and last year we made strides to fulfil that,” he said.
“I think people have started to realise just how good we could potentially be as a team. So it’s been an upward curve and hopefully we can continue that.
“I think as soon as you start thinking about just staying up then that’s the best you’ll ever do – you won’t achieve any more.
“Chris Silverwood just wants us to go out there, enjoy ourselves and what will be will be. That could be being relegated, it could be winning Division One. Only time will tell.
“I know it’s a cliché, but the team that’s most consistent will win it – and I think we’re in a good space.
“I think for us as a club it’s very important not to dwell on whether there is a gap or how we play.
“We’ve done very well against very good teams. We’ve played tourists here and beat Sri Lanka last year in a three-day game.
“We’ve played against international teams and done very well and they’re going to be better than Division One teams.”
This piece originally featured in The Cricket Paper, April 7 2017
Subscribe to the digital edition of The Cricket Paper here