Essex captain Westley welcomes start of Bob Willis Trophy

PUBLISHED: 07:00 31 July 2020

Tom Westley in batting action for Essex against Somerset at Taunton (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

Tom Westley in batting action for Essex against Somerset at Taunton (pic Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo)

©TGS Photo +44 1376 553468

It has been a long time coming, but finally Essex’s cricketers will start their much-delayed 2020 first-class season this weekend.

Essex batsmen Alastair Cook and Tom Westley at the end of the Specsavers County Championship, Division One match at The Cooper Associates County GroundEssex batsmen Alastair Cook and Tom Westley at the end of the Specsavers County Championship, Division One match at The Cooper Associates County Ground

No one is keener to get going than Tom Westley: appointed captain in succession to Ryan ten Doeschate in January, he leads the county into competitive action for the first time tomorrow, behind closed doors at Chelmsford, against Kent in the inaugural Bob Willis Trophy fixture.

“Yes, it’s been frustrating,” said the 31-year-old Westley. “But it’s probably been a lot less for us than many people out in the community. It’s obviously been difficult. It’s something that we hadn’t prepared for, but it is what it is. We’re just delighted to be back playing cricket.

“The Bob Willis Trophy is a unique competition. All counties have a chance of winning it. It might be the first and only time it’s played, so it would be a huge honour to win it.”

Essex aim to add the new competition to the Specsavers County Championship and Vitaly T20 Blast titles they won last year. But they will do so without an overseas player (Peter Siddle), and with Ravi Bopara now settled at Sussex and Dan Lawrence missing at least the opening game on England duty.

“It’s going to be slightly more challenging than it’s been in the past without those players,” added Westley. “But we’ve got some very talented young players who are desperate to fill their shoes. And we’ve got some outstanding senior players, like Tendo, Cookie, Harmy, Varun Chopra.

“There is a lot of experience there and players who have had a lot of success. As a club we’re always looking to improve and build. We want this period of success to be extended.

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“We’ve got a number of young batters who will probably feature at some stage during this five or six-game period. The likes of Feroze Khushi, Rishi Patel, Michael Pepper, Will Buttleman – the last two are keepers so they will hopefully put a bit of pressure on Adam Wheater.

“Then we’ve got a number of talented young seamers. Aaron Beard has had a taste of first-class cricket and done well. He’ll be looking to cement his spot. Matt Quinn, who’s been a bit injury-prone in recent years, is bowling fantastically well at the moment. Ben Allison, who went on loan to Gloucestershire last season; the list goes on, which is brilliant testament to the club that they can keep producing home-grown, talented cricketers.”

Essex had a two-day warm-up against Kent earlier this week, in which Lawrence, Sir Alastair Cook and ten Doeschate all recorded half-centuries and Jamie Porter claimed four wickets. “Everyone has been really impressive over the last month since we returned to training,” said Westley. “But I was very impressed with the way Feroze Khushi has been shaping up with the bat. Aron Nijjar bowled nicely as a potential second spinner, or if Harmy is not available.

“All the seamers stood out. But I keep repeating, I feel very fortunate that we’ve got a lot of talented young cricketers who could step up.”

As captain, Westley will have to get used to a new set of rules brought in specifically for the Covid-era red-ball tournament – 120 overs maximum in the first innings, the follow-on figure extended to 200, 90-over days rather than 96, the new-ball available after 90 and not 80 overs.

“I suppose as captain the one thing we’ll have to be mindful of is managing the bowlers’ workload: the likelihood of getting injured is increased because of the shortened prep,” he said.

“It will also be different this year not being able to shine the ball. We’ll cross that bridge as we go, but I think it will just be the bowlers using their sweat to try and buff out any marks and keep it as shiny as possible.

“But regardless of whether you can shine the ball, or any of the other new rules, you’d like to think that the best team will win over the course of a match.

“The lack of noise, the lack of atmosphere because there are no crowds, will take a bit of getting used to. But we are professional cricketers and we can’t use that as an excuse for any poor performances. I’m expecting very high standards – as we always try to reach at Essex.”

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