Hampshire opener Joe Weatherley has been studying Alastair Cook
If you watched Joe Weatherley on a live stream this season and thought to yourself ‘he looks more like an England Test opener this year,’ it wasn’t a coincidence.
Hampshire opener Weatherley has been studying the likes of the Sir Alastair Cook and Dominic Sibley, while working with their freelance batting coach Gary Palmer.
Palmer, who played county cricket for Somerset in the 1980s, has been described as English cricket’s ‘best-kept secret’ for his work with Cook, Sibley, Ian Bell and Nick Compton.
As a result, Weatherley enjoyed the most consistent season of his career, with a career-best average of 43.83 in the Bob Willis Trophy.
“I first worked with Gary when I was 15 or 16 and then saw his name banded around from players who had gone to see him,” Weatherley said.
“Off the back of my ankle injury, I had a bit of time to look at my game and try some different stuff.
“I felt that if Gary had worked for other openers and other top order domestic players then there might be something to explore with him.
“There was a lot of technical stuff where I looked at what successful openers like Sibley and Cook do; both are successful county and international players.
“I made some technical adjustments. I moved across to off stump and opened my stance up a bit.
“I changed my game to be stronger through the leg side and be a bit more patient to let bowlers come to me and leave better – all while acknowledging that it has been really tough and scores have been slightly lower for opening batters.”
It was on the nagging of Palmer that Weatherley approached Cook for some one-to-one tips during Hampshire’s wet August draw against Essex at Arundel.
The conversation left 23-year-old Weatherley with an alternate outlook on opening, especially when the going is tough.
He said: “It was a really good opportunity while the rain was falling to pick his brains for half an hour or so to talk about how he goes about things as an opening batter; mentally, physically, tactically, technically, what he’s found are particular challenges and what he focuses on.
“My main takeaways were making big scores when he gets in but also finding ways when it isn’t his day or he doesn’t feel good to make a scratchy mid-30.
“That is something I can get better at when it is challenging, just finding a way to make runs.
“He was so approachable and so generous with his time. It felt like he had a right to help a young opening batter. I would definitely approach him again.”
Deep-thinking Weatherley’s information gathering doesn’t stop there.
As well as day-to-day coaching with Tony Middleton and Jimmy Adams at the Ageas Bowl, he also spent last winter in South Africa with former Hampshire head coach Dale Benkenstein while recovering from an ankle injury which curtailed a promising 2019 campaign.
Too many cooks haven’t spoilt the broth, as 263 runs in seven innings and a match-defining 98 and 64 not out against Middlesex proved.
“I was happy with how the season went although it was obviously all-too-brief,” Weatherley said.
“The Middlesex game was a highlight. It was probably the first time that I really contributed to a really good win in four-day cricket. That week gave me a lot of confidence.
“I was one of the senior guys, which was bizarre, but it meant the guys who had played a few games like myself needed to take responsibility for performances.”
Sam Northeast spoke before the Bob Willis Trophy about the need for the Weatherley-era – which also includes the likes of Mason Crane, Tom Alsop and Lewis McManus – to step up without Kyle Abbott, James Vince, Liam Dawson and Fidel Edwards.
Weatherley, Crane and all-rounder Ian Holland, in particular, took that call to arms and enjoyed eye-catching outings for the team.
“I think both those guys and myself needed to show some more consistent performances,” Weatherley admitted.
“The limelight is often held your Abbotts, your Vinces and your Northeasts so for us younger guys our challenge is to be more consistent performers.
“That will make us a stronger Championship contending side next year when the big names are back.
“Somerset and Essex have continued to develop domestic players and the challenge is for the likes of myself, Mason and Holland to supplement the big guns.”
Weatherley’s winter plans are still to be confirmed, with ever-changing travel restrictions making overseas trips difficult to plan.
But the former England under 19s captain is still optimistic he will be able to pop over to Australia and enhance his skills in Grade cricket – specifically back to a club where he has scored 978 runs in 23 matches.
“I played for Woodville in Adelaide for a few seasons a couple of years ago and they are really hopeful of getting me over there.
“They are trying to push for my visa to be ready whenever their borders open up. Even if it ends up being a month or two after Christmas it is better than nothing.
“Even if I do get stuck in England, I will review the cricket we have done and work really hard to be ready for the next season.”