Cricket: Westley open to extra responsibility at Essex
- Credit: Nick Wood/TGS Photo
Tom Westley’s elevation to the top of the order has given Essex a lift just when their stuttering Vitality T20 Blast campaign needed it most.
Essex had won just one of their first four matches when Westley was asked to move up from the number three position he has made his own across all formats.
It did not have an immediate effect on the team's fortunes, though, as despite his sterling 44 against Hampshire at Chelmsford last Thursday, which included an 81-run, second-wicket stand with Adam Wheater, Essex collapsed to an ignominious defeat.
However, on the road the following night, Westley's unbeaten 86 laid the foundations for a morale-boosting victory over Gloucestershire that has ignited hopes of landing one of the four qualifying places for the knockout rounds as the group stage approaches its halfway point.
"Opening is not too dissimilar to batting at three," said Westley. "You can be in from the second ball anyway in T20 cricket. So it's not a huge change for me, but it's one that I'm enjoying.
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"It probably gives you a little more licence to be aggressive. Having 10 wickets in the hutch means you can go for it a bit more - especially opening with someone like Cam Delport who gives it a serious whack.
"We've actually had two good power plays in the last two games, so hopefully this is something we can continue and set the boys up."
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The suggestion that Westley should open came from "the management" (head coach Anthony McGrath and T20 captain Simon Harmer).
"Harmy and Mags felt a change was needed - and it paid off down in Bristol.," added Westley.
"In fact, we were going quite nicely against Hampshire until that drastic batting collapse [from 81-1 to 133 all out]. But down in Bristol, myself and Delport got fifties and Dan Lawrence, going up a place in the order, got a magnificent fifty as well.
"I haven't opened in T20 cricket before, but I have in 50-over cricket, and when it was 40 overs before that, and I've opened in first-class cricket as well, so it's nothing new.
"I like going in when the power play is going on anyway as it gives me the chance to try and hit a few boundaries."
The addition of the power-hitting of South African Delport to the batting line-up has enabled Essex to play the brand of attacking cricket required in the short format.
"That hundred he got against Surrey was one of the best white-ball knocks you will see. He takes a lot of pressure off the non-striker because he gets fours and sixes galore," said Westley.
"T20 cricket has changed massively in the last three or four years. There is not much scope now to try and knock it around at [a strike-rate of] around 110-120. If you've got the honour of batting in the top six then you've got to be striking at 130-plus, so Cammie obviously sets the tone and hopefully the rest of us can follow suit."
Next up at The Cloudfm County Ground in the Vitality Blast tonight (7pm) are Somerset, the other horse in the race for the Specsavers County Championship.
"It's a completely different format, different teams, different make-ups," said Westley. "But I suppose just beating them will be a slight psychological advantage for us going back into the Championship campaign. But we're very much into taking one game at a time. It would be brilliant to beat Somerset on Wednesday, that's our first challenge, then we'll take care of all the four-day stuff later on."
As for his own form this season, Westley added: "I'm scoring consistently, it's just been a bit frustrating in the sense I've got a lot of starts, so many 30-plus scores, maybe seven or eight fifties across all the formats, but still haven't managed to get a big hundred yet. But, more importantly, I feel I'm offering valuable runs to the team."
The 30-year-old committed himself to another three years at Chelmsford last month. "It was a no-brainer," he said, "because I think we're in the middle of what could be a very successful era for the club."