Reece Topley still has ambitions to break into the Test team after proving his ‘bouncebackability’ with England’s best ever ODI haul of 6-24, says his father and former Essex seamer Don
- Reece Topley took six for 24 in England’s 50-overs series leveller against India
- Yet four years ago his career was under threat from a series of back injuries
- The 28-year-old bowler now looks assured of a fruitful time in white-ball cricket
Don Topley never doubted his son Reece would come through the ‘dark times’ that once led to him effectively quitting cricket and return as a record-breaking England bowler at the home of cricket.
The former Essex seamer watched on with pride along with his wife Julia as Reece produced the best figures, six for 24, in the history of one-day internationals at Lord’s in England’s 50-overs series leveller against India on Thursday.
Then Topley senior talked about the long and hard road back from the point where, four years ago, Reece walked away from his contract at Hampshire desolate at a succession of stress fractures of his back that led to career-threatening surgery.
England’s Reece Topley produced the best figures in the history of one-day internationals
‘We are so proud of him not only because of his cricket but as a character as well because he couldn’t have done all his rehabilitation without serious bouncebackability,’ Topley told Sportsmail.
‘He’s repeatedly gone to the well and kept on coming back and lesser people might have waved a white flag. I don’t want to be flippant but I’d happily have someone like him in the trenches with me.’
The problems for 6ft 8in Topley, such a talented left-armer he made his England debut as long ago as 2015, culminated in 2018 when he turned his back on the game, telling Hampshire enough was enough.
‘From a young age I always had the answers for him when it came to cricket but when his injury problems were at their most severe I just didn’t have any answer,’ said Don.
‘The day he had his back operation at the hospital next door to Lord’s I was running a kids festival. I couldn’t concentrate and there were even times when I was hiding in the toilet thinking about Reece going under the knife. I struggled with it.
Topley took six for 24 in England’s 50-overs series leveller against India on Thursday
‘Then he walked away from Hampshire knowing he would turn down all contract offers and would only come back when he was right and ready on his terms,’ said Don, now a BBC county commentator after 20 years as a master at the Royal Hospital School in Suffolk. ‘There was no physio counting the hours or coach counting the days before he could come back. He did it of his own volition and we were just there to support him.
‘He took baby steps in resurrecting his career. He took himself off to Australia and did a bit of net bowling with the Melbourne Renegades and Victoria. Slowly but surely he came back and had a mutually beneficial T20 campaign with Sussex. Then he flourished at Surrey and is at the point he’s reached now.’
That point has culminated with Topley producing consistent performances for both Surrey and now England which, coupled with consistent fitness, led to him destroying India at a ground where his dad once took a spectacular one-handed ‘catch’ to dismiss Malcolm Marshall as a substitute fielder for England in the 1984 Test against West Indies only to step over the Mound Stand rope.
‘We have never doubted his talent and we knew it was a case of him getting back to full fitness,’ said Don. ‘We as a family have so many memories of Lord’s, from my catch to various finals with Essex, and I remember taking Reece to a Test there as a boy.
‘He’s always bowled well there and taken wickets but this was his first game for England at Lord’s which made it extra special against a great India side. He’s always had a good feeling about the place which is so often the way for left-armers when they bowl from the Pavilion End. Now he will see his name on the honours board every time he visits.’
England set up a series decider on Sunday after beating India by 100 runs in the second ODI
And Don, who also had a spell as Zimbabwe coach for the 1992 World Cup, believes Reece, now 28, could yet visit Lord’s as a Test player.
‘He still harbours ambitions of playing Test cricket. And I believe England have talked to him about his red-ball aspirations. I hesitate to say his injury problems are behind him but I do think his body is maturing. He’s been around for a long time but he’s only 28 and I think he can have his best years between now and 32 and fulfil his potential as a complete bowler.
‘The caveat is that he and England know he still has to be managed. That is the key. The schedule is such that it can be dangerous for bowlers and that will make it harder for him to play Test cricket. It’s my opinion that when Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad go we will not see that longevity in bowlers ever again.’
At the very least Topley now looks assured of a fruitful time in white-ball cricket. ‘There were dark days when he was wondering if he wanted to go through the operation, was it all worth it, but it’s completely down to him that he came through it and got to where he is now,’ added Don.
‘He had the desire, dedication and a huge heart. You must have talent to play international cricket but if you haven’t got heart you won’t have a career for very long. People in cricket recognise his character and that’s why they are happy for him.’
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