When Ian Westwood announced his retirement from professional cricket with immediate effect on Monday, it took many people by surprise.
Just four days after playing for Warwickshire at Essex, and only two months since making a superb 153 against Surrey in the championship at Edgbaston, the 34-year-old called it a day. His decision closed a career of 159 first-class games, which brought him 8,077 runs, including 16 centuries, at an average of 33.10.
My decision to retire wasn’t about form. I feel really proud of my career and having played for Warwickshire, but can feel my mind and body wavering slightly and I’m not someone who can go out there and perform at 80 per cent.Ian Westwood
It is a career of which Westwood, Bears captain in 2009 and 2010, is justifiably proud. His career stats do not tell the full story, hampered as they were by a seemingly never-ending sequence of injuries which invariably befell him just as he hit top form. Those injuries, including several collected as one of the bravest of short-leg fielders, were rarely minor. Fractures, usually.
Westwood was an unlucky cricketer. But there was never a moment of self-pity from the Solihull-born player who instead counted himself only lucky; to play cricket for a living – and for his beloved home county.
So why retire?
“I’d been thinking about it for a little while,” he said. “There are quite a few reasons.
“The injuries certainly got more and more frustrating as the years went on and the breaks kept coming. I’ve been under the knife six times and the body, and particularly the hands, are pretty sore. Everyone knows I haven’t always found the game the easiest and always had to work really hard and hit a lot of balls to keep at the level I needed.
“I am pretty battle-scarred, physically and mentally, from the last 15 years.
“There have been some great times but some tough ones too and it’s got harder and harder playing just the one format and then going back into the second team. Against Surrey in April I probably had one of my best knocks for Warwickshire and scored 200 runs in the game, but then we went into 50-over cricket so I was in the second team for a month. When you are approaching 35, that’s quite tough.
“My decision to retire wasn’t about form. I feel really proud of my career and having played for Warwickshire, but can feel my mind and body wavering slightly and I’m not someone who can go out there and perform at 80 per cent. Once I started thinking about retirement it became apparent that any bad day I had in cricket was going to have me thinking about it, so it wasn’t fair on the rest of the lads and the club to have someone in the dressing-room thinking that way. It was time to move on.”
The spirit among the guys is still really strong and they are doing everything they can to turn things round. There is a lot of work to do as a squad but that is completely irrelevant to my decision. The squad is at a point where changes are inevitable and I just wanted to go on my own terms.Ian Westwood
Westwood is adamant that his decision is entirely due to those personal factors. It is not a question of “bailing out” due to the Bears’ bad start to this season.
“The team is going through a tricky phase but we had an equally tricky period in 2009/10 with a lot of rebuilding to do,” he said. “But we started to do some really good things at the back end of 2010 and then Jim Troughton took over and we finished second and then first. The group of players I have been involved with won everything and I feel very lucky to have been part of it.
“But cricket goes in cycles. You can’t just go into the transfer market and pick out five players. It takes time to build.
“I’ve played in some struggling sides and the dressing-room hasn’t always been a great place to be, but the current situation isn’t like that at all. The spirit among the guys is still really strong and they are doing everything they can to turn things round. There is a lot of work to do as a squad but that is completely irrelevant to my decision. The squad is at a point where changes are inevitable and I just wanted to go on my own terms.”
Westwood will remain around Edgbaston until the end of the season, when his contract was due to expire, working with the 2nd XI and Under 19s. Beyond that he would like to stay in cricket. He has done some umpiring but coaching and mentoring is also a direction which interests him, and in which he surely has much to offer.
One thing he will not be doing, at least for a while, is playing.
“I’m not planning on it,” he said. “If I wanted to carrying on playing cricket I’d be out there at Edgbaston. That’s where I always wanted to play.”
As he looks out across the field which he has trodden on the Bears’ behalf for more than a decade, Westwood is understandably emotional.
“Every time I stepped on to the field with the Bears I felt really proud and loved it,” he said. “But I’m very comfortable with my decision to retire. This is the right time.”