Westley guards Essex faint promotion hopes
Essex 369 and 214 for 4 (Westley 90*) lead Surrey 346 (Burns 158, Porter 4-96) by 237 runs
Tom Westley can claim to have played a modest supporting role in England's Ashes success. At Chelmsford last month, he scored 144 against the touring Australians to provide his occasional Essex teammate Alastair Cook with a reminder of the fallibility of the Australian bowling attack. Cook was appreciative, texting Westley to congratulate him on his century.
After the excitement about the Australians coming to Essex, the scene at Castle Park was rather more somnolent, as if players and spectators alike shared the hangovers that some of England's Ashes winners were no doubt nursing.
Westley adapted to the mood. During his century against the Australians, he had bristled with intent against Nathan Lyon, light on his feet in hammering 57 from 37 deliveries against the offspinner.
But he was altogether more respectable against Zafar Ansari and Gareth Batty. His late cutting and driving through the covers provided evidence of his finesse and class, but Westley also defended with resolve and great care, decisive in his footwork whether playing forward or back. Having played serenely for 26 before chipping Gareth Batty tamely to midwicket in the first innings, Westley resolved to produce a more substantial innings in the second.
"After my shot in the first innings I had a bit of stick so I had to be a bit careful and rein it in a bit, which is unusual for me this year, I've been quite positive," he reflected. "I was trying to score as quickly as I could. I hit a few boundaries and came down the wicket to Ansari, but it's very difficult for new batters coming in."
Both Ansari and Batty bowled with control and precision, even if they would have hoped to be more incisive on a wicket that, while far from the raging turner seen at outgrounds of yore, has aided spin all match.
In fact it was Jade Dernbach who provided Surrey's greatest threat. Owing to a side strain and then a calf injury, he has not played a first-class match since the fixture at home to Essex in April, and had not taken a first-class wicket since September 17 last season.
But with Surrey searching for inspiration, Dernbach produced a spell of sustained hostility with the old ball, jagging a delivery back to uproot James Foster's offstump and almost doing the same to Mark Pettini first ball. A solitary wicket was scant reward for his endeavour.
As they attempted to disturb the tranquillity of Essex's innings, Surrey resorted to innovation: at one stage Dernbach bowled to a mid-on and two short midwickets - a Southern equivalent of the famed 'Yorkshire Wall', perhaps - to try and entice a loose shot from Westley.
It did not work, though Surrey did force out four batsmen who looked well set. Ravi Bopara was particularly perturbed when, having played with great care, he was adroitly snaffled by Jason Roy at legspin off Batty. Bopara recently expressed his hope that England would not forget about his talent, but one half-century in 15 Championship innings this season is making it rather easy for them to do just that.
Though Surrey bowled parsimoniously, Essex too readily gave the impression of being content to sleepwalk to a draw. Even in the last ten overs of the day, with a lead of over 200, they added just 25 runs. True, their team is a little depleted, so in isolation this was another admirable day's work from Essex.
But the nub is that a draw will do nothing for Essex's promotion ambitions. "We have to win obviously," Westley conceded. Had they scored at three-and-a-half an over during their 79 overs, Essex would already be in a position to declare and set Surrey 300 in a day: better to risk defeat, surely, then allow Surrey to stonewall their way to a draw, especially with a brief shower expected on the final day.
That said, the sight of several deliveries from Ansari gripping and rearing up in the final session - even if such occasions were too rare to induce much trepidation in Surrey's batsmen - suggested that Essex could yet force a result.
For them to do so, the performance of Panesar, fresh from four first innings wickets, will be critical. "If he bowls as well as he did in the first innings he'll pick up even more wickets," Westley said.
Panesar has already made an admirable comeback. He will need to make it a match-winning one if Essex are to maintain designs on promotion.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts