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All sights on September for Tom Westley as Essex begin twin title defence

Bob Willis Trophy and County Championship already in possession, and a new responsibility looming

Alan Gardner
Alan Gardner
Tom Westley lifts the Bob Willis Trophy, Somerset vs Essex, Bob Willis Trophy final, 5th day, Lord's, September 27, 2020

Tom Westley lifts the Bob Willis Trophy  •  Getty Images

It is natural for any county cricketer scanning ahead on the fixture list at the start of summer to make note of a Lord's final - all the more so if you are the captain of the defending Bob Willis Trophy champions. Essex know their way around the business end of the season and will hope to still be in the mix come September 25, though team success could leave Tom Westley juggling more than just matters of form and selection, with his wife, Rosie, due to give birth to their first child the day before.
"It's going to be touch and go," he admits, though for now Westley is happy to park thoughts of fatherhood and focus on the rather more familiar challenge of leading Essex in their defence of not one, but two first-class titles, given the resumption of the County Championship after it was forced into abeyance by Covid-19 last year.
In its absence, Essex lifted the inaugural BWT in late September after a truncated county season, adding to the Championship triumphs of 2017 and 2019, and meaning they will go into this summer's restructured competition - in which a conference system will eventually lead to the Division One winners taking the pennant before contesting "the Bob" against the team that comes second - as the team to beat twice over.
These are "exciting times, new times", Westley tells ESPNcricinfo. "The first time a county has had to defend two red-ball trophies. But that's testament to Essex last year, the preparation wasn't spot on because of what happened with the pandemic. Winning the Bob Willis showed how strong we are, how much depth we have and how resilient we can be in testing times. So we're going to have to show that again this year defending two trophies, and wanting to compete and win the T20 again, and the 50-over comp. We set out to win every game we play, so I can't see that changing."
The pandemic is, of course, still an unavoidable fact of life, and Essex were among the last counties to return to training at the end of February, as the club took a cautious approach to the safety of players and staff. Understandably, Westley and his team-mates are "buzzing" just to have the opportunity to get back out on the field.
"It's been quite a challenging winter, I think the final lockdown really did deplete everyone," he says. "As cricketers we're just desperate to get back and try to regain some form of normality, but that wasn't to be at Essex particularly. I think we were the only county that weren't training at one stage, which was tough.
"[But] Essex have traditionally always been good at making the best of a bad situation. We've shown that in games where we've started poorly and managed to bounce back strong and go on to win. That's similar to our preparation, it hasn't always been ideal but we've been able to get some top-quality work in with the time available."
This will be Westley's second season as captain, having succeeded Ryan ten Doeschate last year. Given his impending life event, an eagerness to embrace the role and pour his efforts into helping the team should stand him in good stead when it comes to adding parenthood to his list of responsibilities.
"I think the captaincy came at a nice time, because there is an emphasis placed on what I can do, what I can give to other people," he says. "It's not all about individual performances, even though I want to score the most runs and score hundreds. There is a more holistic approach to my cricket now, the wellbeing of the other players, the decision-making and inputs from them is massive, and I want them to be as successful as they possibly can.
"I take a lot of pleasure in the fact it's not just about myself any more, I have to think about the others. I want to be as good to those younger guys as Tendo was to myself and others during these last three-four years. I've been at Essex my whole career and I think we're a fantastic cricket club. I think we play cricket the right way, I think we have fun, I think we're entertaining, and there's a lot of history at our club. It would be amazing to be a part of that and put your own stamp on it, so you can look back and think we were part of something special."
The strength of Essex's team spirit, built around a strong core of homegrown players supplemented by high-quality additions like ten Doeschate and Simon Harmer, has been a feature of their rise in recent seasons - from Division Two winners in 2016, to sustained red-ball success and a maiden T20 title in 2019.
There is, as Westley says, "very big family feel to the club", with former captains Keith Fletcher, Graham Gooch and Ronnie Irani all still involved at Chelmsford and rooting for further triumphs. The current squad is strong and settled, with nine of the players who contested the Championship decider at Taunton in 2019 likely to be involved against Worcestershire next week, and arguably a match for any in the club's history - although they are still a few pots shy of the 12 won under Fletcher and then Gooch between 1979 and 1992.
"We are quite mindful about wanting to create a bit of a legacy, we want to be part of a very special era - like Essex have had in the past, the Fletcher era, the Gooch era," Westley says. "It's common knowledge as an Essex player that you hear about those times, a kind of golden period for the club. I saw Fletch this week and I was quizzing him on how many Championships he'd won, and statistics aren't his strongest suit - he told me he'd won eight Championships and that's definitely a lie, because I think Essex have only won about eight in their history.
"I said to him, I can't wait to hopefully win a couple more and win more than yourself Fletch, and he said: 'Nothing would please me more than for you guys to carry on winning'. You do want to create a bit of a dynasty, your own legacy as a group of players. Because in the first half of my career at Essex we didn't win anything."
The same can't be said of recent years. And the Westley era has only just begun.

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick