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Tom Westley: I should have built on my strengths rather than tweaked my technique

Tom Westley refuses to accept his Test career is over and done with and believes his best chance of forcing his way back into the thoughts of England is to stick to what he is good at.

The 30-year-old Essex batsman has fond memories of his hugely promising debut two summers ago, his second innings 59 and a total of 84 in the match helping England to a resounding 239 run win over South Africa at the Oval.

The final contribution of his five-match spell wasn’t too shabby either, 44 not out in an unbeaten second wicket stand of 72 with Mark Stoneman which clinched the third Test against West Indies at Lord’s and the series 2-1 with it.

The problem was the five single figure scores he made in between and, in the process, the magnification of what critics saw as a fatal flaw in technique that ultimately cost him a place in the squad for the 2017-18 Ashes.

But with England still desperately seeking for the top order combination that can unlock their chances of winning back the urn this year, Westley is approaching the start of the domestic season with renewed confidence that he can prove them wrong and a good idea of how to go about it.

No-one who had watched Westley score the runs in county cricket which earned him his elevation, and Alastair Cook saw quite a few of them that early season, would have had to be told that his success was based on his sweet leg-side play.

Now Westley reflects that instead of attempting to correct what, when tested at the highest level, others had highlighted as a weakness, what might have served him better was to focus on and improve the strengths that got him there in the first place.

That places are up for grabs is not in doubt.

 “That’s exciting,” Westley says, “not only for myself but a lot of county cricketers. If an individual scores three-four-five hundreds early in the season, they are going to be spoken about to play for England.”

And for Westley the crux of the matter is not only how many he scores, but also how he scores them.

He explains: “I went through a very tough patch at the start of last year because I was working on the wrong things or rather not working on the right things.

“After I was dropped there were a few technical things that I worked on because I thought they would make me a better player. I changed my stance a little bit; I thought it would help my balance. I changed my back lift…. not huge changes, but things that I felt were important in order for me to be more successful at international level.

“In hindsight, I should have worked on what I was good at, and increased the intensity and the preparation around that, to elevate the player that I was by 10 per cent rather than try to be someone that you’re not.

“It was actually explained to me quite nicely by Paul Farbrace, the assistant coach; at every single stage of your career whether you are playing at club level or first-class cricket, academy, second team, first team you are the same player but you try to improve by 10 per cent because the standard improves by that much at least.

“So you are the same batsman, you have the same shots, the same skillset, but can you make that skillset 10 per cent better in order to survive and thrive at the higher level?

“In the last six to eight months going back to what I was doing and the way I was playing, trying to improve that to go up another level is what’s making me look forward to the start of this season.”

Westley admits the process left him confused and frustrated, but when assessing his chances of a comeback, he now draws on the example of other predominantly leg-side batsmen like Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen (those with longer teeth might also cite Mark Waugh and Vivian Richards) to reassure him that refreshment not reinvention is the right approach for him.

Joe Denly
Third time lucky: Joe Denly is England’s newest no.3. Photo: Getty Images

And, for inspiration that he may yet get a second crack, he calls to mind the path travelled by Kent’s Joe Denly to make his Test debut aged 32 when all but national selector Ed Smith must have thought such a notion fanciful.

“Picking Joe Denly in the winter gives every cricketer of 30-plus hope that if you do work out your game a bit later or do fantastically well then you do have the opportunity to potentially play for your country. You don’t just feel that no matter what you do your time’s gone.”

And might it also help that he will have the chance to bat with, and watch and learn from the more regular presence in the Essex side of England’s highest Test run-scorer?

Up to a point, says Westley, of cricket’s newest knight of the realm, an honour which, reassuringly, according to Westley “he’s hardly spoken about”.

“I’ve been asked that a lot over the years when picked for the Lions and for England. But Cooky can’t score runs for you. He even said that to me.

“We sat down before I made my debut and I asked him if he had any bits of advice. He said not really, you’ve got to where you’ve got to because you are good enough, you’ve scored the runs to be here but only you can go out and score runs now for yourself.

“He’s banged on about that for a long time and I can’t see anything changing.

“I’d be disappointed if he now says, ‘learn a new shot’!”

PETER HAYTER / Photo: Getty Images

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