Tom Westley did his best to follow the reassuring example set by Alastair Cook but in the end could only watch in admiration yet again after failing to consolidate on an encouraging start to his own Test career.
England’s new number three helped Cook (82no) add 52 for the second wicket as England battled to 171 for four on a tough, rain-shortened opening day of the third Investec Test against South Africa at The Oval.
After Joe Root won the toss, and the ball seamed and swung almost throughout for Vernon Philander in particular, Westley hinted at many more than the 25 he had to settle for after he was dismissed in the first over of the afternoon session.
Thankfully for England, their all-time national record runscorer was in for the long haul, confirming his huge value to the hosts as they bid to go 2-1 up here with one more match to play.
Asked if Cook’s latest innings had reinforced his high regard for his long-time Essex team-mate, the Test debutant said: “I’ve always thought he was good! I didn’t learn that today.
“But I think it just shows [what you can do] if you persist and work hard – because it did do a bit today, nipped around [off the pitch] and swung.
“But Cookie being Cookie, he fought through that – and it’s one of his best qualities. He works hard for his runs; he’s determined – and thankfully that showed through today, and he’s got a brilliant 80.”
For Westley, it was a case of mixed emotions after getting started but failing to kick on.
“It was obviously quite an emotional day, getting my cap – the highs of that – and then starting relatively well,” he added.
“I felt good at the crease – and then getting out just after lunch was bitterly disappointing, especially after working so hard with Cookie to put that 50 partnership on.
“To then get out the first over is frustrating at any level – so yes, mixed feelings.
“The positive I can take is that I got a start – it’s not much but it’s somewhere.”
Cook’s presence helped, but in the end Westley knows it was and will continue to be down to him to forge his own career at the highest level.
“It’s always nice batting with someone you know – you know each other’s games, and we have a good understanding in the middle,” he added.
“But equally, he would say, he can’t score runs for me. As nice as it is having him at the other end, only I can do it.
“He can’t do it for me – which is a shame, because I’d have taken his runs today...”
Westley had scored a century in his most recent first-class innings against the same attack, minus Philander who was missing from the tour match at Worcester.
He said: “It was a step up, everything that goes along with Test cricket, the pressure – and that’s why it was frustrating because I felt like I was coping nicely for that hour before lunch, and then a soft dismissal after.
“[But] I think it’s encouraging, if we can get runs on the board, with our bowlers on that surface we could be in a good position.”
Among those trying to prevent that will be Kagiso Rabada, the strike bowler returning here after his one-match ban from South Africa’s series-levelling victory at Trent Bridge last week.
That absence was a disciplinary measure for swearing following the dismissal of Ben Stokes in the opener at Lord’s. Rabada was on his best behaviour on his comeback, and confirmed he has learned his lesson.
“It is really simple. Just don’t swear, but be yourself,” he said.
“Obviously I made a mistake, and I am not going to make it again.
“It is never nice being banned, and it’s a disappointment – but if you don’t show disappointment, it shows you don’t care.
“I knew that I had messed up, but we have a lot of talent. I’m not the main guy of the team.”