Don Topley: Cricket cup finals are great – but spare a thought for those 12th men who miss out

Don Topley with son Reece, whom he hopes will play in the Royal London One Day Cup Final at Lord's t

Don Topley with son Reece, whom he hopes will play in the Royal London One Day Cup Final at Lord's this weekend. Picture: DON TOPLEY - Credit: Archant

In this week’s column, Don Topley looks ahead to this weekend’s Royal London One Day Cup Final, which his son Reece may feature in – and recalls his own regrets about cup finals past.

Reece Topley runs in to bowl for Hampshire. Picture: HAMPSHIRE CC

Reece Topley runs in to bowl for Hampshire. Picture: HAMPSHIRE CC - Credit: Archant

This Saturday the Royal London One Day Cup Final will take place at Lord’s between Hampshire CCC and Kent CCC for the first Trophy of the season.

This domestic Royal London One Day Cup Final is probably the last at Lord’s, as the annual finale will move to Trent Bridge in the future to become more centrally located.

For me, it is a great shame, as for the jouneyman county cricketer this is their day in the lights or their ‘Test Match’ to perform in front of a full crowd and be on television.

The day itself has, over the years, become a significant day in the summer social calendar with friends meeting at Lord’s at the height of summer, just like Ascot, Wimbledon and Henley Regatta

I was fortunate enough to be involved in four finals with Essex – 1985: Benson & Hedges Final v Leicestershire, 1985: NatWest Final v Nottinghamshire, 1989: Benson & Hedges Final v Nottinghamshire and the 1989 Refuge Assurance Cup v Nottingamshire – we used to be sick of the sight of Nottinghamshire!

Sadly for me, having played my part in all the early rounds of all the above, claimed ‘Man of the Match Awards’ and even contributed well in quarter and semi-finals, I never actually played in a Lord’s final, which is the biggest regret of my career. I was always that 12th man where – normally after fielding practice – the captain hunts you out on the outfield an hour before the start, putting his arm around you and saying “sorry, we can’t play 12”.

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On those momentous occasions, with around 30,000 in the stadium, I was the only disappointed and heartbroken man there. It’s difficult to wish your team mates luck, whilst so crestfallen.

And this 50-over county final on Saturday has a distinctly Suffolk affiliation. I am hoping my own son, Reece, gets into the starting line-up for Hampshire.

Hampshire and England bowler Reece Topley

Hampshire and England bowler Reece Topley - Credit: Archant

He, like me, has played in almost every RL game this season. This will be his first final – and a first final for a Topley – with many friends and family travelling up to NW8 for what we all hope for will be a terrific and proud family day out.

Reece doesn’t know yet if he will definitely play so he, his mum, sister Hannah, and I will be on tenterhooks all day Friday and especially Saturday morning.

The wicket won’t change overnight, so I have never understood why teams don’t announce their proposed side to their 13 man squad earlier.

There are normally about six players in the mix for four places in the Hampshire team – it would be so much better for their mental preparation to know the side the night before rather than six players have sleepless nights.

Kent have two former Suffolk schoolboys on their senior staff. Matt Hunn (St Joesph’s College) is unlikely to feature but the New Zealand international all-rounder, Matt Henry, spent a year at St Joesph’s College in the Sixth Form on scholarship. Henry has been brilliant this summer in a rejuvenated Kent side.

I can remember an incredible schoolboy game seven years ago when Royal Hospital School had an exceptional 1st XI side led by Reece. RHS also had another South of England schoolboy player (Matt Drury) and four Suffolk County players.

The aforementioned Hunn and Henry featured in the opposition that day together with a host of Suffolk age-group players. It was a schoolboy game of tremendously high ability.

RHS batted first and made a decent score in their allocated 40 overs with Henry surprisingly not taking a wicket. Then Topley ran riot, claiming five wickets and that of Henry, in a fantastic RHS win by 30 odd runs. I can only dream of a similar result this Saturday for Hampshire and Reece!

Don and Reece pictured together back in 2009. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

Don and Reece pictured together back in 2009. Picture: ANDY ABBOTT

It is interesting to mention that particular schoolboy game where two players have gone on to international cricket (Henry and Topley).

But the real thermometer of the challenge that faces the game today is the fact that out of the 22 schoolboy players who turned out for their school seven years ago, only six are still actively playing the game and three of those are playing professionally.

All those schoolboys are now 23, 24 or 25-years-old – an ideal age to commit to amateur club cricket.

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