Essex’s Reece Topley not fazed by playing for England Lions
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REECE Topley may be the youngest member of the England Lions squad, but he will certainly not be fazed by the prospect of facing Australia in their own back yard.
Topley, who turns 19 on February 21, is returning to the country of the greatest personal triumph of his short, but successful cricketing career so far.
Only last August Topley was the leading wicket-taker in the Under-19 World Cup tournament in Queensland, capturing 19 wickets at an average of only 9.10 and an economy rate of just 3.17. England finished fifth out of 16 teams, after being knocked out by South Africa at the quarter-final stage.
Topley said: “I was surprised to learn from an English journalist who was covering the tournament out there that the last time someone got more wickets than that was when the competition was played under a different format with more games.”
Indeed, Topley’s haul was the second highest, level with Mushtaq Ahmed (Pakistan, 1988), Wayne Holdsworth (Australia, 1988) and Riaz Afridi (Pakistan 2004) – all of whom played at least eight matches. Topley played just six.
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Even Bangladesh’s Enamul Haque Junior, the tournament’s all-time leading wicket-taker, featured in eight matches as he bagged 22 wickets in the 2004 competition.
“I look back very fondly on my time at the World Cup – it was a special time for me.
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“I had a roller-coaster time up to the World Cup. I had times where I had done well and other times where I had done appallingly,” reflected Topley.
“But I put a lot of hard work in with (bowling coach) Chris Silverwood at Essex working with the white ball.
“In the T20 season with Essex I learnt a lot about bowling at the death and what ball to bowl when and also about tactics from players like David Masters and James Franklin and Mark Pettini and James Foster. They were always talking to me and I was able to put that into practice.”
That experience should hold Topley in good stead as he undertakes his third trip to Australia in less than a calendar year, after also taking part in a Quadrangular Series last April ahead of the World Cup.
But although this is a step up – the Lions will face Australia A in a five-match one-day series – the 6ft 7ins left-arm fast-medium swing bowler knows what to expect and will take it in his long stride.
“The hype of England versus Australia is all around you – you are in the enemy’s back yard, so there is a real buzz about it.
“I am really looking forward to it. I am the youngest and least experienced of all the players, but in my eyes I have performed in matches before under pressure, and I am now quite a wise bowler tactically, which is my strength more than anything.”
As we talked in the lounge of his Polstead home, where he still lives with his parents, former Essex bowler Don and mum Julia, England were on their way to victory over India in the opening one-day international – a series they ultimately lost 3-2.
Yorkshire’s Joe Root, who was originally selected to skipper the Lions tour, was making his full one-day debut for England, following on from his Test debut earlier in the tour.
A combination of his own performances and withdrawals, mean Root has since been elevated to the full England squad to tour New Zealand, with Nottinghamshire’s James Taylor taking over the captaincy.
Topley, who has been on the radar of the ECB since he was just 12-years-old, confessed: “It is exciting to think what could come out of this tour. Being so young there are so many possibilities ahead for me.
“For instance, it could be I go down one route so that I go on to play international cricket in the future, or it could be I don’t take my chance and end up playing in county cricket for the rest of my career.
“But I never really set myself any targets – that is just the way I go about things. I am very much someone who deals with the situation at that particular moment.
“There is a saying that if you take care of the present the past takes care of itself.”
Although the only member of the squad not to play any competitive cricket since the domestic season ended in September, Topley has been training hard during the winter and is ready for the challenge ahead.
Since November he has been on the Potential England Players’ Programme at Loughborough, visiting bi-weekly for five days at a time, anticipating that he would be going to Potchefstroom in South Africa for outdoor training at the same place where Spain’s all-conquering football squad stayed when they won the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
“There were six bowlers and from 6.30am until 5.30pm all we were doing was going to the gym twice a day and bowling each day. It is an intensive camp, preparing you for the season ahead.
“Fast bowling is one of the hardest jobs in sport in terms of the toll it takes on your body. It is a case of preparing for the season ahead as injuries are a big part of being a bowler.”