Westwood the saviour amid early-season crisis

Warwickshire 292 for 6 (Westwood 153, T Curran 3-90) v Surrey
Scorecard


Ian Westwood acknowledges his hundred © Getty Images

Ian Westwood is, in many ways, an unlikely saviour. Fifteen years into a first-class career in which he averages in the low 30s, he has endured prolonged periods out of the side, is out of contract at the end of the season and has prepared for life after cricket by starting the qualification process as an umpire.

But here, and not for the first time, he was exactly the man Warwickshire required in a crisis. Reeling from the worst start to a season most can remember – they have never previously lost their first two Championship matches by an innings – Warwickshire desperately required some resistance from a batting line-up that looks so strong on paper but has, of late, folded as if made of the stuff.

Westwood responded with perhaps the best innings of his life. His century, studded with powerful pulls and sweetly-timed flicks off the legs, was the quickest (130 balls) of his Championship career and came when his side had been inserted under lights and against a bowling attack that inflicted one of those innings defeats. It helped Warwickshire not only register their first batting bonus points of the season – a pretty remarkable statistic given that this is their third game – but get within eight runs of doubling their tally of total points as well. Nobody else reached 50.

We shouldn’t be surprised. While Westwood has never been rated as highly as the man he developed alongside in the Warwickshire Under-10 side a quarter of a century ago – Ian Bell – he has, in his own way, served the club with the same level of commitment. So it was Westwood who produced the century (against Durham) that buffered his side against relegation last year, Westwood the club turned to when they required a captain in the tough, transition years of 2009 and 2010 and Westwood who was left out of the side for the 2010 Lord’s final when a stronger combination of players was available.

That’s the way it is for players like Westwood. On days like this, with few spectators in attendance and a back-to-the-walls relegation fight to be had, he is just the man. But he knows that, when Warwickshire have recruited once more, when the transition is over, when they find themselves back on a more glamorous stage, he will be probably be deemed surplus to requirements once more.

The early part of this innings was typical Westwood. Scrappy and dogged. He got off the mark with an edged boundary – the generous assessment would be he was keen to make use of an unusually short boundary towards the Pershore Road side of the ground – and three of his early fours came to third man. On 46, he edged just in front of third slip and, on 104, he may have been missed by Ben Foakes down the leg side.

But it was, at least until he reached three-figures, a chanceless affair. And, once he settled, there were some elegant strokes. Jade Dernbach was punished for dropping short by two sixes – one upper cut over that short boundary, the other pulled over it – and he utilised the vast boundary to the other side of the ground by picking up three all-run fours.

The real difference between this innings and other Warwickshire efforts this season, however, was not the attacking shots but the defensive ones. Whereas his colleagues have prodded and poked, Westwood left and waited. He refused to be drawn into searching for the ball outside off stump and, by forcing the bowlers to wait, persuaded them to go searching for wicket-taking deliveries. He picked off the resultant loose balls with gratitude and has given Warwickshire not only a foothold in this match but some belief at the start of a season that was slipping away from them fast.

Surrey were not especially impressive in the first session. Just as Bell was criticised for bowling first at The Oval, Gareth Batty may be criticised by those who see that Warwickshire’s openers posted 126 and conclude that conditions were good for batting. But as Surrey’s assistant coach, Stuart Barnes admitted afterwards: “We weren’t pleased with the first session at all. We didn’t get as many balls in good areas as we have done in other games so far this year and we paid the price for it.”

They showed they had learned their lesson by the time they took the second new ball. The first four overs with it produced only two runs and earned two wickets as Tim Ambrose was defeated by one that nipped back sharply and Westwood’s defiant innings ended when he poked at one that bounced and left him a little on his off stump.

Earlier Bell was, for the third time this season, caught in the slips by Scott Borthwick off Mark Footitt – this time Bell prodded at one he could have left – while Jonathan Trott and William Porterfield both edged deliveries from Tom Curran on or just outside off stump.

Curran also dismissed Ateeq Javid. Having beaten his man often and seen a strong appeal for a catch declined, Curran was fired up, but the send-off he gave Javid slightly took the gloss off the moment. He’s a fine young bowler; he doesn’t need to roar in anyone’s face to prove it.

Javid, playing ahead of the dropped Sam Hain, never really settled. Only winning selection after Matthew Lamb, a highly-rated 20-year-old, sustained an injured foot in the seconds, he looked understandably nervous – he is playing his first Championship game since mid-2015 – and, perhaps, as if he were playing for his future.

His wicket was the first of three for the addition of just 29 runs that left this game pretty much even. The absence of a heavy roller may render first innings runs at a premium but, while this was, thanks to Westwood, a much-improved day for Warwickshire, Surrey will fancy they are still very much in this game.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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