Earlier this month, with their rain-ravaged, flat-decked fixture drifting towards a draw, Worcestershire tried a new trick for getting Essex's Tom Westley out, a feat seldom seen early this season. Westley had been so brutally proficient between midwicket and mid-on during his first-innings century - the third of his four first-class hundreds this summer, to go with three half-centuries - that Daryl Mitchell placed five fielders in front of square in the leg-side ring. Not that it deterred Westley; "I still got it through twice," he chuckles.

It is no surprise Westley found a way through. He has, he believes, "never scored this volume of runs in such a short space of time" or "felt this good". As Essex have slipped to the top of Division Two, their new vice-captain has stood tall on the pull, cut elegantly, while his occasional drives - normally whistling past the umpire's ankles - have come with a high-elbowed flourish. Best of the lot, as Mitchell well knew, were the leg-side flicks. The runs have flowed: 650 in eight innings so far, at an average of 81.25 and, notably, a strike-rate north of 60.

But the glut is perhaps as unsurprising as Westley piercing that tiny onside gap. He is, at 27 and with more than 200 top-level games to his name, an experienced and accomplished cricketer, entrusted with responsibility and in charge of his game. He knows, having flayed a strong Australia attack to all parts last summer, that he can mix with the best, but is also bristling after underperforming on England Lions' tour of the UAE over Christmas, and subsequently missing out on a place in England's World T20 squad.

"The Lions tour was a great learning curve," Westley tells ESPNcricinfo. "I just didn't play well, and my bowling was probably keeping me in the side, because I didn't make the runs I believe I'm good enough to score. I was in a lean patch, got some good balls but played some bad shots too, and before you know it the series is over. That was an insight into playing international cricket.

We get on very well but we don't talk cricket much, which makes him a very relaxing guy to bat with. It's light-hearted and not intense, which is calming
Tom Westley on his partnerships with Alastair Cook

"I was frustrated, but I look now and feel I probably understand my game better for that disappointment, getting on the tour and not performing. I had gone away from what made me successful at Essex because I was desperate to impress. I was playing like I thought an international should play, but I've had a pretty successful method. I do think that realisation is why I've had my best ever start to a season."

If you are going to have your best ever start to a season, it's not a bad idea to do it with the England captain standing at the other end. Twice Alastair Cook and Westley have shared 200-plus stands this season, as well as standing side-by-side in the slip cordon.

"He's one of the most boring men ever," Westley laughs, "so it's tough to pick his brains. We get on very well but we don't talk cricket much, which makes him a very relaxing guy to bat with. It's light-hearted and not intense, which is calming. I like to switch off between overs and balls. He's similar. As soon as the bowler turns he's got the best concentration levels I've seen and I guess that is built from his ability to switch on and off. Often in the middle I'm just abusing him about how slowly he scores and how I'm flying past him."

The caveat to all this, of course, is that all these runs have come in Division Two. The caveat to the caveat - and some mitigation for a record that may appear modest - is that Chelmsford was the bowler-friendliest of a series of bowler-friendly Division Two grounds that brought about the changes in toss regulations this season. Runs were not rife. "The ruling is good, but I doubt Jesse [Ryder] agrees. It had got a bit ridiculous. Matches were rarely even getting to the third afternoon."

The gap between divisions is increasingly undeniable, and the selectors gaze is firmly Division One-bound. "Runs in Division One probably should have a bit more weight. It is tougher," acknowledges Westley, who has played just nine games in the top flight, as long ago as 2010. Before signing a new contract in February, at the fag end of a tumultuous period for Essex, he could have left, but his allegiance to a club for whom he made his second XI debut aged 15, the chance to become vice-captain and a genuine belief that they would be promoted made staying simple.

"I'm desperate to get into Division One by scoring loads of runs and getting Essex into Division One," he says. He was born up the road in Cambridge, but Westley is so Essex CCC that his Dad built Derek Pringle's and Keith Fletcher's extensions, and Ryan ten Doeschate is trying to edge his way up his 18-month waiting list.

Westley has long been a leadership candidate (he captained Durham University and an England Under-19 side containing Alex Hales, Chris Woakes, Steven Finn and James Taylor) and is ten Doeschate's vice-captain. "Tendo has made the role a bit more active," he says, "Ravi Bopara was vice-captain before and he was away with England and is so chilled out that I think he forgot he had the role."

His elevation comes as little surprise. He has worked under an array of celebrated coaches - earlier Graeme Fowler and Graham Gooch, and more recently Andy Flower, with whom he has chatted this season, and Graham Thorpe - talks lucidly about the game, and is a keen student of it.

"On my days off I'm not at county grounds looking for autographs, but I think it's important to know a bit of history, especially about your own club," he says. "It was nice this week at Worcester, a few of us were looking round the new pavilion at all Graeme Hick's records. Other guys are different. We were at the Graeme Hick Pavilion, and there's an 18-foot great picture of Hick there, so I asked Dan Lawrence if he knew who it was. He just grinned and said, 'I do not have a clue'."

Essex's match against Sri Lanka, the first of their tour, was another chance for Westley to impress. He had unfinished business against them, having scored 99 against on their 2011 tour, and sure enough, he did not miss out this time, serenely compiling 108 from 158 balls to cement his side's advantage.

"Scoring any runs is good, and I suppose it's extra-special getting runs against the tour sides," he says. "I think I've matured a little bit as a player - I've played quite a few games now and I'm getting on a bit at 27."

With the squad for the first Test due to be announced on Thursday, and a long-term opening partner for Cook yet to be set in stone, Westley knows that his efforts are beginning to attract more than just local interest.

"It would be a huge honour to get called up, but for me it's just taking one game at a time and trying to win as many games as for Essex as I possibly can and scoring as many runs as I can," he says. "Then… what will be, will be.

"If I score runs I always get a text from Cook, just saying well done, and he's like that with every Essex cricketer," he adds. "I just had a text from him saying, 'what was it like?' but I'm yet to reply. I might tell him it's doing all sorts!"

But if Westley's latest efforts have fuelled his confidence, it is that century he racked up against Australia in 2015, during which he bludgeoned Nathan Lyon for 57 off 37 balls (including hitting him into the River Can), that drives his belief.

"With Starc charging in bowling 90s and Hazlewood not much slower, I fancied my chances against Lyon so I just went after him. It was great fun and very special. I know I can mix with the best."

Now, his source of inspiration is Andrew Strauss, a player who made his Test debut after a long apprenticeship in the shires.

"A lot of guys break in younger," he says. "Strauss, like me, was at Durham and he's a good example. I joke that I'm getting on a bit but it's nice to know that if you make the runs you still have a chance of breaking in. I need to stick to scoring big. I believe time has helped me: I know my game, its strengths and weakness, and what I need to look out for. It would have been fantastic if I'd known all this when I was 22, but I had to go through the journey to find it out."

Will Macpherson writes on cricket for the Guardian, ESPNcricinfo and All Out Cricket. @willis_macp