England's Tom Westley shows promise once again
Tom Westley has proved he has the skill to survive in Test cricket, but can England give the talented batsman time he needs to settle in?
When Tom Westley debuted against South Africa in the third Test at the Oval, he had behind him an experience of 144 first class games and 8000 plus runs. He had toiled ten years in domestic cricket which trained him effectively for the challenges of Test cricket.
His staunch foundation was reflected in his debut innings in which he scored 22 runs off 50 balls. It wasn’t a spectacular debut or a knock that would turn him into an overnight star in cricket. But that small and solid innings was indicative of his strong defence and promising temperament.
In adverse conditions, Westley kept South African bowlers at bay for about an hour and neutralised the threat of the new ball. It wasn’t a great achievement but was certainly a good knock. The second innings was even better as he notched up his maiden Test fifty and consolidated England’s dominance.
It was a more than a decent debut which made the world notice his potential and abilities. Hence, when he walked to the crease in the first innings of the fourth Test, the England team and the cricket world expected something more from him.
A solid start in the fourth innings
And once again the right-hand batsman started with tremendous promise. He was barraged with balls that kept hitting the fourth and fifth stump. He left most of them with sound judgement. He was also lucky as a few deliveries that moved away missed his bat narrowly and few, after getting the outside edge, dropped short of the fielders.
It was a tense start with the Proteas bowlers keeping things tight. But, Westley played the waiting game beautifully and showed his resilience by coming out unscratched from the fierce battle.
He was beaten, squared up and troubled frequently. And at times, looked all over the place as he missed the ball by miles. But somehow he survived the ordeal and importantly prevented South Africa from making further inroads during the crucial first session.
Until lunch, the England batsman had faced 56 balls out of which four missed the outside edge of his bat by a whisker while three balls landed safely after claiming the edge. If anything, it was a scratchy knock. Only seven scoring shots in 56 balls.
But what mattered was his survival. The seven scoring shots included four boundaries that mirrored Westley’s strong technique and his intent. The first boundary came off an overpitched delivery, the second when Morkel strayed on his pads and the fourth as de Bruyn erred in length and bowled short and wide of off stump. Except for the third boundary which was the result of an outside edge, his boundaries came when the bowlers made mistakes.
After lunch, he was more composed and looked liberated. And that’s when he made the decisive mistake. After keeping the bowlers at bay in the first session, all he had to do was to cash in the opportunity by scoring runs in the second session. But the right-hand batsman lost his composure and chased a ball that was on the fifth stump. Rabada’s out-swing forced the error and the brilliance behind the stumps by Quinton de Kock ended the gritty knock of 29.
By falling on 29, the England batsman once again missed on another opportunity to score a big knock. He stood tall in tough conditions and when the situation favoured the batsmen, he gifted his wicket.
For the third consecutive time, Westley showed promise, laid the foundation and when everything looked set for a flourishing inning, lost his focus and embraced the end. It is not a technical flaw, it is a temperamental fallacy. An error for which decades of domestic cricket has no answer to.
It can only be tackled by featuring in more such battles at the highest level. Temperament can be developed, it cannot be taught.
Homework for the England management
Scores of 25, 59 and 29 in three innings aren’t impressive but what the numbers don’t tell is the fight and resilience showed by the English batsman in each of these innings.
Frustration is bound to come after such scores, but this where England team management has to step in and rescue the 28-year-old batsman. He needs to be given more chances and a little more time so that he realises that he belongs here and has the capability of surviving at this level.
The three innings so far by Westley haven’t proved his abilities but they have assured that his ten-year stint in the domestic cricket hasn’t gone to waste. This man knows batting and the 8000 plus runs he has amassed in the first-class cricket are quality runs. Runs for which he has fought hard, just like he did on the first day of the fourth Test.
He can solve England’s issues with the number three position. With the batting at number three, Joe Root can play with more liberty at number four and it helps in strengthening the middle order.
But the question is, do England has enough patience to wait till Westley finds his mojo in Tests?