By Sam Dalling
A fresh start in professional sport often brings fresh faces.
New ideas. New people. No looking back. Hangovers from the past are avoided like the plague.
Cricket is a slightly different beast though, and a slow passing of the baton is more commonplace.
But even then, it takes a stronger character to step up to lead with their predecessor lurking in the background.
If you’ve the security and self-belief to embrace it though, the rewards can be plentiful.
And that’s exactly how newly appointed Essex skipper Tom Westley views the wealth of experience now at his disposal.
The right-hander took over the reins at Chelmsford from Ryan ten Doeschate with the club having just secured a second County Championship title in quick succession.
However, rather than losing sleep about his pal’s return to the rank and file, Westley – who also has Sir Alastair Cook’s cricketing brain to tap into – can only see positives.
“There are no egos at Essex and I’ve got not paranoia about a former captain or Alastair being there – we are all there to help one another,” he said.
“I feel so fortunate to have those guys to lean on when I need to.
“Who else can say they’ve got that wealth of knowledge in the ranks to draw on?
“Tendo is a very close friend of mine and he’d always bounce ideas around with me in the past when I was vice captain, and I’m sure I will do the same.
“I’m godfather to one of his sons – and I’ve been joking with him about my unbeaten streak.
“If we’d gone this many months without losing normally, the championship would have been in the bag!”
Westley has had to wait patiently for the chance to lead his troops over the white line for the first time.
But there’s potential gold at the end of the rainbow, with the First Class counties last week voting in favour of a domestic season containing both red-ball and t20 cricket.
The exact details are still being ironed out, but it seems certain the new skipper will be without the services of up and coming man Dan Lawrence when the 2020 campaign belatedly gets underway.
Lawrence’s stock has risen rapidly over the last year, to the extent that he’s arguably the next cab off England’s Test cricketing rank.
Many believe that the youngster should have had a starting berth this Summer after an exceptional Lions tour down under was followed up with a classy half-century in the Team Stokes v Team Buttler warm-up clash.
His non-selection for defeat at the hands of the West Indies is seen as merely delaying the inevitable; barring disaster full international recognition will come sooner rather than later.
And although that will leave a hole in the Essex top order, Westley is desperate to see his team mate given his shot at the big time.
“Obviously I have a bias towards Dan, but I’m a bit disappointed he didn’t get to play this week; there’s not much more he could have done with the Lions and in the warm up game.
“I’ve seen him since he was 17 at Essex and he’s an incredible talent.
“But not only that, he’s also putting in match winning performances so he warrants being spoken about to play for the full England side.
“That’s the highest goal you can achieve in cricket and I’ll be chuffed to bits when he gets in, even if it probably means we don’t see a huge amount of him.
“He’s been a destructive white ball player for Essex for 18 months now and his performances for the Lions suggest he’s next in.”
Westley knows first-hand what it’s like to be awarded an England cap having broken into the test side back in 2017.
The 31-year-old’s call came off the back a stellar 2016.
Across all three formats he racked up more than 2,100 runs in an Essex short, 1435 of those coming in First Class cricket.
And some strong displays for the Lions in Sri Lanka that winter were then followed up at the start of the next season.
Wherever you are in the in the world, a batsman’s currency is runs, and such a rich vein of form was impossible to ignore.
Making his bow in the third test of England’s series triumph over South Africa batting at three, Westley remained in situ for the next five tests.
But his solid if slightly unspectacular record wasn’t enough to earn a spot on the Ashes tour later in the same year.
Having struggled initially on his return to the domestic scene, green shoots of recovery were visible at the back end of the 2018 season and there were further promising signs last time around.
Now Westley is drawing inspiration from the men currently occupying England’s top two spots and is keen to throw his hat back into the ring through sheer by racking up the runs for Essex.
“England rewarding Rory Burns and Dom Sibley for scoring vast volume of runs in the championship. gives all aspiring cricketers hope,” he said.
“If you do well domestically, keep banging on the door, inevitably they have to pick you or at least speak about picking you – and that is a big part of it.
“Certain players are earmarked and get opportunities because they are perceived to be good enough at international level – that’s inevitable in all walks of life.
“But it’s nice knowing the door isn’t closed if you perform well in county cricket.
“Strong test cricketing nations have a meritocratic system where if you score volumes of runs you get selected – that’s how it should be.
“Whether that’s slightly a delusion of mine or just a way of filling up hope, we will see. The only way back is to score lots of runs for Essex – I’m realistic in that sense.”
Despite his relatively tender years, this summer will be the 15th in a row Westley has appeared in an Essex shirt.
Since his debut as a fresh-faced teenager against the touring Sri Lankan’s back in 2006, the man from Cambridge has racked up more than 300 appearances for the Eagles.
But during the early part of his career, Westley secured a degree, while under the cricketing tutelage of Graeme “Foxy” Fowler at Durham University’s centre of excellence.
His spell in the North East yielded five appearances against professional sides, with a hundred and a half-century both notched up.
However, the traditional county curtain raisers lost their first-class status nearly a decade ago, and the MCC’s funding pot has now run dry.
What happens next remains to be seen, but the prospect of losing the bridge between school and the professional game leaves aspiring young pros with a potential dilemma.
And Westley believes the loss will be particularly galling given the current state of the world.
“I’m a huge champion of the university programme – it served me well.
“I’ve seen a lot of university students who are club cricketers or have been on county academies and have put in some brilliant performances against first class counties. It is used as a shop window to get a trial or even a contract with a county.
“For those who are on summer contracts it takes a lot of the pressure off in terms of their outlook.
Cricket is suddenly not the be all and end all and that allows them to play with more confidence and freedom. Having a degree makes you a little bit more assured.
“In times like these when unfortunately, there are going to be cutbacks, it’s a double whammy.
“We are potentially going to see some job losses and at the same time fewer cricketers are going to Uni and getting a degree when they might need it most.
“I would stress to any young cricketer to do it, but if the system isn’t there it’s a bit of a conundrum.”