Tom Westley will embark on Essex’s defence of their County Championship title next week, hopeful that a winter of technical tinkering can re-establish his international credentials, with England in clear need of batting reinforcements following their disappointing Test campaigns in Australia and New Zealand.
Westley made his Test debut against South Africa at The Oval last summer, and impressed with a fifty in the second innings of England’s 239-run victory. But his form fell away thereafter, with 65 runs in his next six innings, and despite signing off for the summer with an unbeaten 44 against West Indies at Lord’s, he missed out on selection for England’s Ashes squad.
However, in his absence, very few of England’s fringe batsmen made compelling cases for long-term selection. Dawid Malan emerged with the most credit after a solid Ashes campaign, but Mark Stoneman and James Vince had middling returns – averaging 30.23 and 30.54 respectively – causing England’s coach, Trevor Bayliss, to issue a “call-out to the guys in county cricket” to state their credentials.
And despite enduring a disrupted winter after breaking his finger while on Lions duty, Westley was back in action during Essex’s curtain-raising contest against MCC in Barbados last month, where he top-scored with 62 in the second innings of his side’s innings-and-34-run defeat.
“My finger doesn’t look too great but it’s not as bad as it looks,” he told ESPNcricinfo. “It’s still quite swollen but I should be fine for the start of the season.”
Reflecting on a memorable 2017, which culminated in Essex’s first County Championship title in a quarter of a century, Westley said he looked back on his England debut season with few regrets.
“Firstly it was a fantastic opportunity,” he said. “I’d have liked to have done better but I wouldn’t have changed last summer for anything. Playing for England and then winning Division One, it was a year to remember. But I think the thing for me, personally, it is about scoring runs for Essex again and then hopefully putting my name in for selection at the start of the year.
“One of the frustrating things was getting a few starts and not kicking on, and also getting out in ways I haven’t necessarily got out for Essex. I was lbw a few times, which is usually a major strength of mine. But it’s happened now, so I’ve gone away and tinkered, and hopefully I can come back better.”
The timing of Westley’s injury was inopportune – he broke his middle finger while fielding during the Lions three-day match against a Queensland Select XI in November and endured a 12-week lay-off after undergoing surgery. But that did give him the chance to fly out to South Africa to work on his technique with Gary Kirsten, and he hopes – if his chance comes again with England this summer – he will be better placed to make it count.
“I’ve made a few changes to my technique, nothing major, I just wanted to tinker with a few things,” he said. “Some things were highlighted [during the Tests], not massive flaws, just a few little things that will make me a better cricketer. As a cricketer you want to get better and improve, so I think if I didn’t change anything there’s no way I’d come back better. Hopefully that will show this season.
“Obviously it was a tough tour for England and, looking forward, there’s going to be a lot of players in county cricket that feel, if they score runs in the early part of the season, they will give themselves a good chance of selection. But it’s all well and good speaking about it, you’ve got to score runs and put your name in the hat.”