Brian Halford talks to Warwickshire captain Ian Westwood about his ambitions for the forthcoming season.
Ian Westwood intends to “improve as both captain and batsman” during his second season as Warwickshire skipper.
Challenged to pick the main team objective for the season, which will begin with a home championship match against Yorkshire starting on April 9, Westwood does not hesitate in pinpointing consistency as the biggest area for improvement.
Warwickshire blew hot and cold last season, as encapsulated by their last two championship matches.
In the penultimate game they delivered their best all-round first-class cricket of the season to thrash Sussex by an innings and two runs at Hove.
Then they went up to Old Trafford and, even with Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott on board, took a ten-wicket trouncing by Lancashire.
But while Westwood, who took over the captaincy from Darren Maddy last season, will call for more consistency from his team, he will be making exactly the same demands of himself.
While his leadership of the side in 2009 was largely steady and impressive, his batting was erratic.
As an opening batsman, Westwood is an important component of the team quite apart from the captaincy and his tally of 605 runs from 23 championship innings, at an average of 30.25, is one he needs to comfortably exceed in 2010.
“As a team we have to be a bit more consistent,” Westwood said.
“Last season when we were good we were very good but when we were bad we were quite bad. We need to stay consistent throughout so that we can start challenging for those top spots.
“On a personal level I want to improve as both captain and batsman. I enjoyed my first year as captain but also found it hugely challenging.
‘‘Looking back there is definitely stuff to learn from and I think I will be better second time round. My batting form was patchy in the middle of the season and I found that, with the captaincy, it was hard to drag myself out of that patchy streak.
"Hopefully the experience from that first season as captain will stand me in good stead. If I learned one thing above all it is to try not to carry too much on my own shoulders and to just be happy with leading from the front and trying to contribute weight of runs.
‘‘I need to remember what I do well and concentrate hard on that, almost setting my batting aside from the captaincy.
“I can do that because we have a good bunch of lads here who are not the most difficult to lead. They are willing workers and have a really good rapport going so it’s not like you need to be constantly on their case.”
It is all the more important that Westwood finds his touch with the bat next season as Warwickshire will be without either or both of Bell and Trott due to England duty for sizeable parts of the season.
Those two batsmen combined scored 2,193 championship runs from 41 innings last season and 3,967 runs in all competitions for their county.
So their absence will require the rest of the Bears’ top order, not least opening pair Westwood and the fit-again Darren Maddy, to score heavily.
“There is no hiding from the fact that Bell and Trott scored a lot of runs for us last season,” the captain said.
“It is up to the rest of us to fill the gap. We have an exciting player coming in in Varun Chopra and Darren will be back after missing almost all of last year so that will be like gaining a new player.
‘‘Last year we had a problem at the top of the order trying to find an opening partner for myself so it will be good to have Mads back.
‘‘We have all got to take responsibility and put runs on the board.
“If we can do that then we could have a good season because we are pretty happy where we are bowling-wise.
‘‘We feel that we have a seam attack which is developing nicely so to add a quality leg-spinner like Imran Tahir bodes well.
‘‘He has a fantastic first-class record and the pitches at Edgbaston generally offer a bit for the spinners, certainly in the second innings, so hopefully we can generate a few more results here than in the last couple of seasons, weather permitting.”
A top-three finish would be a commendable effort in the championship and, while a serious tilt at the title looks unlikely, there is no reason why Warwickshire should not be right in the shake-up for silverware in one of the shorter formats.
‘‘We must be doing something right to keep getting to the Twenty20 quarter-finals,” Westwood said.
“We have shown we are capable of beating good sides but always seem to fall at that quarter-final stage, Whether it’s playing on our minds a little bit I’m not sure but all we can do is keep putting ourselves in that position.
“In 40-over cricket we decided to put out our strongest side in every game we played last season and I don’t think there were many sides that won more games than us.
‘‘The format is slightly different this season with different groups so it will be a nice challenge to play some teams that we haven’t faced much. We just have to hit the same standards that saw us finish unbeaten in 40-over cricket last season.”