Essex County Cricket Club: Westley aware that England call-ups will be a big miss for Essex

By Brian Jeeves in Cricket

Essex v Warwickshire - Preview

Specsavers County Championship Division One

Monday, June 18-21 at the Cloudfm County Ground, Chelmsford

The extent of Essex’s success this season can, paradoxically, be measured by the fact that they will be without their second top run-scorer and leading wicket-taker for today’s Specsavers County Championship match against Warwickshire at Chelmsford. Dan Lawrence and Jamie Porter have been poached by the Lions for the England second-string squad to face South Africa A later this week.

Lawrence’s 444 runs and Porter’s 31 wickets have helped Essex into a 14-point lead in the Championship after six of the 14-match programme. The pair have caught the eye of the England selectors and marked as future prospects.

Both young men have put together a series of eye-catching performances as Essex take Division One by surprise after last season’s promotion. Lawrence has two centuries to his name, and an average of 63.33, while Porter has improved his best bowling figures in both red-ball and white-ball cricket, and regularly ripped through opposition top orders with the new-ball.

“There is no beating about the bush,” says Essex vice-captain Tom Westley, “they’re going to be a big miss. But we’re a really strong squad and we’ve got some good players to come in. It’s a good opportunity for all those guys who do step up to really put their hands up and try and cement their place.

“It’s a win-win for the club. We’ve got a set of players in the changing room who are aspiring to play for England. Playing in Division One means you are more likely to have those opportunities. But it is something that the club will no doubt have to address going forward if we are going to start losing players to international call-ups.

“But it does mean it is a very good club to play for if you’ve got a squad challenging at the top of Division One, players challenging to play for England. That, in turn, should also attract even better players here.”

Westley appreciates the potential benefits for Lawrence and Porter by being involved with the Lions; he spent the winter on tour with them, scoring a stack of runs against Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and enhancing his own credentials for full England caps.

“It is a brilliant opportunity to put your name in the headlights,” he says. “There’s a lot of scrutiny on the Lions – they make it quite a tough environment because they know how tough and vigorous international cricket is. I’m speculating, having never played it, but just being in the Lions set-up they try and mimic what the full England squad do.

“The two of them should gain quite a lot of confidence if they do well at Lions level. It is probably a step-up in professionalism, there are a lot more coaches around, a lot more media and you’re playing against some very good teams.”

From his own experience, Westley says: “You get to work with world-class coaches. I’ve done a lot of work with people like Andy Flower and Graham Thorpe. Often England selectors are watching games as well. Ultimately everyone wants to play for England, so by doing well it gives you a better chance of getting there.”

Westley is rediscovering his best form after an iffy start to the season and guided Essex to victory against Surrey last week with a sensibly patient 108 not out, his third century in all competitions to date.

“As I’ve got a bit more mature and older as a cricketer, I’ve learnt how to find ways of scoring runs. You don’t have to feel brilliant at all times, but you have to find ways to keep the scoreboard ticking. It’s something that four or five years ago I’d have been up and down, as a lot of young cricketers are, but I feel more confident as my career has gone on.”

While Lawrence and Porter head to Canterbury for their four-day date with the Lions, starting on Wednesday, Essex hope to put any hangover from their Royal London Cup exit on Friday night behind them against bottom club Warwickshire. But Westley warns: “You have to be cautious of any team you play in Division One, wherever they are in the table. They’re a dangerous team with some very big players. It will be a challenge, but it’s one we’re up for.”

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