Hampshire v Essex: Westley looks to build on productive winter
PUBLISHED: 07:00 27 April 2018
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Tom Westley has the trophy, caps and scars to show for a rollercoaster year.
It somehow fits the narrative that the late September afternoon when Essex were presented with the golden Specsavers County Championship goblet should be the day England announced his omission from the winter Ashes party.
“It was probably my greatest year in cricket,” says Westley. “It all happened at once. To play for England was a boyhood dream come true. But it was obviously bitterly disappointing getting dropped [by England] at the end of the summer.”
Worse was to follow. On the first day of the first match on the consolation Lions tour to Australia, Westley suffered a break to the middle finger of his left hand that brought his winter plans to a grinding halt.
“It was actually fielding,” he adds. “I was fielding on the boundary and I dropped a high ball late in the day. I didn’t realise how serious the finger was at the time. We thought it might just be a dislocation and there was talk of me batting later on that evening.
“Scans went back and forth from England and Brisbane and next thing I knew I was on the plane home and having surgery two days afterwards. It was actually more severe than initially thought. I’ve now got three pins in my finger and it’s still quite swollen.”
There was a silver lining amid the gloom. “I suppose it is good in a way that it happened early in the tour because if it had happened after Christmas I wouldn’t be playing now. It happened pre-Christmas, so end of January, beginning of February, I was able to go out to South Africa and do a bit of work with Gary Kirsten in Cape Town, which I found hugely beneficial.”
Kirsten, the former Proteas opener, took on a player who had endured five successive single-figure scores for England in the summer, and who Wisden critiqued: “Analysts noted Westley’s tendency – well-known on the county circuit – to play round his front pad. He aimed straighter after that, but at the expense of his leg-side game, and looked half the batsman, repeatedly falling lbw.”
Westley admits: “There were things that had crept into my game over the last 18 months, so we tinkered with that so I could produce a fuller face [of the bat], which is something he picked up on.
“He actually said at the end of the time I spent with him that he couldn’t see any noticeable flaws in my game. In that sense it was good to work with someone new and chat about my batting.
“Sometimes you don’t have the time to make a few changes, drastic changes even, you’re just chipping away. So it was quite a productive winter.”
As fate would have it, Westley comes face to face at Southampton today with his successor – and predecessor several times removed – in the England No3 slot in the Hampshire captain James Vince. Comparisons are likely to be made.
“I understand that people are obviously going to talk about how we get on, and I suppose from the media aspect it adds a bit of spice to the game,” says Westley, 29.
“But I think I’ve been good for a number of years now, and not looked sideways at what other people are doing.
“For me personally, it is just another game of cricket for Essex, one in which I hope we can repeat what happened down there last year when we had an amazing comeback and won. The decision about selection is out of my hands.”
Speaking of hands, Westley is comfortable again with bat in glove, and has a first-class sixty and a couple of forties in the scorebook already; fielding with a swollen digit is another matter.
“I’ve taken myself out of the slips for the time being because I don’t want the finger to flare up, or anything more sinister happen to it,” he adds.
“I’ve been guesting at mid-on for a while. My target for the season used to be to take as many catches as I could, but it looks as if that’s going to be out the window!”