The exact moment the world found out Tom Westley would be batting No.3 for England…
Tom Westley is bang on time for our meet at a coffee shop in boho Islington, where he lives with his lawyer girlfriend. It’s late morning, on the back of a late finish at the Oval the night before; as it happens, a late one for both of us. Westley gets the coffees in. The only reason for the black baseball cap, he insists, is the “shocking” hair concealed beneath it. By no means, absolutely not, would he be seeking to conceal anything else.
We order some breakfast and crack on with the interview, which he’d agreed to the day before. It’s only the second time we’ve met, though I’ve been a fan for a while – whenever the national team has one of its more drastic wobbles, it’s become routine for me to start imploring someone, anyone, to do the decent thing and put him in an England shirt.
Well, last week at Trent Bridge was one of those wobbles. In fact, last week was a sixth wobble in eight Tests; throw all those wobbles together and you’ve got something approaching a full-on breakdown. After Nottingham, the make-up of the team for the Oval next week has got everyone vexed. It’s into this fevered mood of speculative guesswork that at least one of us has stepped here.
So we cover off the usual stuff: Essex’s dream season, studying Harry Potter at university, his old man – a legendary hothead of club cricket, Derek Pringle’s kitchen, Keith Fletcher’s genius, Ryan ten Doeschate’s anti-ageing secrets, bacon sandwiches, Ed Miliband, LBC radio, and his hopes and aspirations to one day play Test cricket for England. “I’d like to think my chances are very high,” he offers. “Obviously being spoken about this week in particular is very flattering. In the next couple of days we’ll find out…”
And if he wasn’t in the next squad, after so much talk that now – at 28, after 1,500 runs last summer and three centuries this, including one for England Lions against the South African tourists – could be his time? “Sure, there’d be disappointment but I’d accept it,” says Westley. “No one’s got a divine right to play for England no matter how many runs you score; you could score twice the runs that I’ve scored and still not get picked.”
Things are beginning to wind down when suddenly his phone beeps and he’s up, mid-sentence, running to the loo. Moments later he returns to the table. He’s a little breathless. I’m about to learn that Tom Westley is actually experiencing one of the biggest days of his life. And that he’s known it all along.
TW: I don’t have to lie to you any more! I’m playing the next Test!
AOC: What?! Congratulations! When did you find out?
TW: I found out this morning. But I wasn’t allowed to say anything till they’d released the news. Some fantastic lying from me. I could be an actor!
AOC: Have you told your girlfriend?
TW: I told her this morning, she burst into tears. And I called dad, he was on the scaffolding! Nah, he didn’t fall off. He’s a man of few words, and he was speaking in a monotone, but he said, “I think I’ll go around the corner and maybe shed a tear”
AOC: Where will you bat?
TW: I think I’m down to bat three. I’ve tried calling my mum about 20 times this morning but she’s at work.
AOC: So how did it play out?
TW: James Whitaker called me this morning and he didn’t say whether the news was going to come out today or tomorrow. So I didn’t know whether to tweet it, or announce it… I’m gonna be all Bieber-esque now! No paps, no paps! Shit’s pretty real now
AOC: Life changes, right this very minute
TW: Oh, I dunno! Does it? It is what it is… Hopefully for the better! Hopefully I don’t get lynched in the street, that would be pretty bad!
“I’ll walk down the wicket and whip it!”
AOC: Did you always know this would happen?
TW: Oh no, I always had aspirations to play for England and I always wanted to do as well as I can, but I’m a big believer that you can’t be that guy who says ‘I’m gonna play for England’. I understand that some people do say that, and they believe that, which is good on them, amazing self-belief or whatever you want to call it, but for me it’s just been about trying as best as I can, and seeing wherever that takes me.
AOC: So Whitaker calls you this morning. Were you with it at the time?
TW: It was a shock. When his name popped up on my phone I thought, ‘Cor, this is either going to be good news or disappointing news!’
AOC: Would they have called you if you weren’t?
TW: I don’t know, in the past they’ve called me to tell me that I’ve been close but not been selected. But I don’t know, I was asked this last night, and I said it’s not their prerogative to ring every single player who’s not in the team, it just doesn’t make sense. But when the call came through just now, there was a bit of general chitchat to start with – you know, ‘How you doing?’ ‘Yeah, bit disappointed to have lost last night’ and so on…
AOC: Cut to the chase, man! Cut to the chase!
TW: Yeah, I know! and then he said, ‘But I’ve got some good news for you…’ and then I’m in shock, and I get shaky. Because it really is like a dream come true. You’re potentially going to be batting three for England. In a Test match. At the Oval.
I’m gonna be all Bieber-esque now! No paps, no paps!
AOC: Against Rabada, Morkel, Philander… make sure you get your eye in
TW: Nah, I’ll walk down the wicket and whip it!
AOC: Have you told your mates?
TW: I’ve only told my parents, girlfriend, and Tendo [ten Doeschate].
AOC: And me!
TW: And you! Man, it’s gonna be crazy now
AOC: You’re gonna get your own kit with your little initials on the arm, and your own number
TW: It’s gonna be quite surreal. I know there’s a huge sense of pride personally, but it’s nothing to how my parents feel now and, you know, it’s obviously unique for me, but for other players who have gone through this before… it’ll be interesting to talk to them about how they process things
AOC: It’s time to have a good, long chat to Cooky…
TW: Yeah, I can’t have a serious conversation with him though. I just end up abusing him!
AOC: I’ve looked it up, you’ll be number 677 or 678, depending on whether Malan also plays
TW: My two favourite numbers! What are the chances of that?
[By this point the press release has been circulated and his phone’s going off the hook].
AOC: Come on, let’s pay up and leave you to it
TW: Nah, I’m Justin Bieber! They can wait! Actually, one of my good girl friends, who I went to uni with, said to me, ‘If you do ever get famous, just be like Bieber! You know: “No paps, no paps!”’
AOC: Hiding under your baseball cap…
TW: I dunno, I don’t think I’ve got it in me. I’d just get too embarrassed. Ah, man. This is going to go berserk now…