Tom Westley believes that staging the Bob Willis Trophy final on neutral ground at Lord’s, negating the home benefits of Taunton and Chelmsford to the protagonists, will provide the perfect setting to decide the red-ball champions of a truncated season.
“It’s fitting that the two strongest red-ball teams of the last few years are playing each other at the home of cricket,” says the Essex captain ahead of the season’s finale against Somerset.
“They are a fantastic red-ball side – as are we – so I think it’s going to be a good showpiece. It’s nice that it’s going to be at a neutral venue, and over five days. Hopefully the best team will win. Fingers crossed that will be Essex.
“It’s been challenging for batsmen at both teams’ home grounds: they have produced a lot of results wickets at Taunton and we’ve had a lot of results wickets at Chelmsford. By all accounts the wicket at Lord’s is going to be one of the Test-match wickets so it should be a better wicket for batsmen.
“But just because the wicket’s better, it doesn’t give you a divine right to score runs. Both batting units are going to have to knuckle down and try and produce big first-innings scores.”
As a first-year captain, and one-time England top-order batsman, Westley is keen not only to add the Bob Willis Trophy to the two Specsavers County Championships won in three seasons, but to put some runs on the board of his own. He has managed just 121 runs at 15.12 apiece in Essex’s five south group qualifying matches.
“It’s been very frustrating getting starts and not being able to go on,” he says. “It’s been very frustrating because there’s almost a desperation to do well, to do even better being captain. But batters go through lean periods, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that being captain has affected my form. Hopefully this game at Lord’s, on a slightly better wicket, will be the opportunity to finish the season on a high.”
Westley has fared better in the Vitality Blast, where he has a campaign average of 27.28 with scores of 39, 51, 39 in his last three innings. “It’s a different format,” the 31-year-old admits, “but I think spending time in the middle, getting runs under your belt, in any format is only going to have a positive effect. Hopefully I can take that recent form across into the red-ball. Again, I don’t want to be getting 30s, 40s and 50s, I want to be getting big hundreds and making match-winning contributions.”
Essex have a good record in the Championship against Somerset since winning promotion in 2016: they have won three of six meetings in Division One, losing just once, and forcing the draw at Taunton exactly 12 months ago that sealed the title in a weather-ravaged decider.
“It’s nice to take confidence from those statistics into the game,” says Westley. “But what’s happened in the past has happened and this is a new game. They are going to be desperate to beat us, having been on the losing end the last few years. But the fact is, we know that if we play to the best of our ability, it’s been enough to beat them in the past. But this is a one-off at a neutral venue, so anything can happen.”
In a shortened campaign the emergence of left-handed all-rounder Paul Walter has caught the captain’s eye. “He’s had a brilliant season. He’s always been on the fringes. He’s trying to achieve the all-rounder role that has been held down by stalwarts like Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate, which means it’s been quite a challenge for him to break in. But he’s stepped up and done a job opening, done a job at five, and been absolutely brilliant.”
Of the final, Westley reckons: “We’re always confident, but we mustn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. We believe if we play the way we know we can, we can beat any team in the country. I think the statistics have shown that over the last few years we have been the best red-ball team. And hopefully that can continue into this week.”