Don Topley: Reece’s struggles show just how tough life can be for a professional cricketer

Don Topley with his son, England international Reece

Don Topley with his son, England international Reece - Credit: Archant

In his latest weekly column, DON TOPLEY looks at his son Reece’s battles with injury and upset, and how tough life can be for a professional cricketer.

Watching your son play cricket for England is as good as it gets as a parent. But the immense pride and unique sense of achievement can rapidly turn into the turmoil of disappointment and a sense of despair.

My son, Reece, has represented England 16 times and now, at the age of just 23-years-old has experienced a difficult 13 months where he has simply been out of the game injured.

Reece’s last game for England was in the successful t20 World Cup in India. Then in April 2016 – in the first game of last season – he suffered a fractured hand whilst batting for his new county, Hampshire.

Whilst returning from the hand injury his back continued to ache. Reece was scanned and then a third stress fracture of the back was confirmed.

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When he telephoned me one early morning immediately following the hastily arranged consultation, my son was in tears. It was the very first time in my life as his day to day coach, mentor and father, I could not come up with an answer.

I always had the answer for anything to do with his cricket. Naturally, mum and I could sympathise, empathise and reassure him that we will be there, but I just didn’t have the answer or the quick fix – he was devastated.

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It is fair to say that even we too believed we were all invincible at 22 just like Reece. I and my Essex colleagues were.

It is probably part of the great make-up of sportsmen that they are and believe they are, but that telephone call at 7.45am made me realise that Reece now knows he isn’t.

Suffering three stress fractures of the back is an issue for fast bowlers and most ‘fast and nasties’ have experienced them: Anderson, Cummins, Pattinson, Onions to name a few.

Graham Napier has suffered four stress fractures and has even undergone surgery.

If your ever posted an advert for a fast bowler it would not sound attractive – but it can pay well.

Getting up most mornings, stiff and in some pain only loosening up after a few hours. Having to bowl 30 overs-a-day up the hill into the wind, propel the ball on flat wickets against challenging great batsmen.

Wear huge boots, experience tired feet from six hours a day in the field and possibly spend 230 successive overs (2 ½ days) in the field which Reece only did last week in his comeback game for Hampshire! T20 and just bowling four overs looks a little easier!

For the past 13 months he has been stoic pending hour upon hour in the gym with various strength and conditioning gurus, trying to make his young body more resilient to the demands of the job.

He is still young, his adult body is only now beginning to mature with his bone structure becoming hardened.

It’s not just the physical side that concerns us but there is the mental side too – spending much time alone away in another part of the country probably just worrying and being concerned about his body and whether he will return to where he once was. The mental side in cricket has been highly profiled with the likes of Marcus Trescothick, Jonathon Trott, Graeme Fowler and Reece’s old Essex team mate, Aussie Shaun Tate.

Reece said: “I lost my identity and no one was talking about me in cricket circles, I was almost a forgotten man – it was hard.”

The good news is he is now back playing for Hampshire with three games to his name, but he knows he must be managed this season to get through it.

He is still young and will become an even better bowler when 24, and again at 26 and will only start reaching his full potential at 28 years old – but for the moment England must wait.

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