Topley excited by the challenges ahead

MUCH has happened to Reece Topley in the five months since we last spoke.

It was Press Day at Essex on the eve of the new County Championship season. After impressing against Cambridge UCCE on his first-class debut, Reece was to make his championship debut against Kent just three days later and claimed five wickets in the visitors’ second innings.

After three first-class matches he was the leading wicket-taker in the country – no mean feat for a 17-year-old in his first season – before sitting his ‘AS’ Level examinations at the Royal Hospital School.

His appearances for Essex were intermittent over the course of the season thereafter, exams , appearing for England Under-19s in their one-day series against South Africa and not over-bowling him, combining to curtail possible further opportunities.

The most noticeable difference since we sat and talked at Chelmsford in April is how much he has matured as a person and is noticeably more self-confident when interviewed.

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The first-class circuit is a harsh environment, and away from the guiding light of his father Don, a former Essex cricketer himself, Reece has had to stand on his own two feet and grow up quickly.

Topley, who signed a professional contract that tied him to Essex over the summer months, said: “I didn’t think I was going to play as much first team cricket as I did. I hoped to play a few games, but I ended up playing several championship matches and some Pro40 games.”

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He finished the summer with 34 wickets in nine first-class matches at an average of 23.55 – an impressive return for a fledgling first-class cricketer.

Reece reflected: “In some games I took my opportunities more than others. I did well at the start of the season, but in the middle and towards the end of the season I could have performed better.

“I look back and think I could have done things differently. Next season I will be able to eradicate some of the mistakes I made which could have been down to naivety that I won’t repeat next season.

“I am quite self-critical, which I think you need to be to progress. Sportsmen such as Roger Federer and Tiger Woods don’t settle for the norm. They are very self-critical in their quest to be the best in the world in their respective sports.”

Topley had around two months out of school last year while he was away in South Africa with England Under-17s and then when he went on Essex’s pre-season tour to Barbados.

After getting grades of B in Media and D in both Business Studies and PE, he decided to leave school to concentrate on his blossoming cricketing career and has since signed a two-year contract with Essex.

“I am going to be away for twice as long this winter, and realistically I would not be able to do my ‘A’ Levels when I am half-way across the other side of the world with very little teacher support for another year, so on that basis I chose to leave school.”

If his form or fitness desert him in the future Topley can always return to the classroom to further his education, but he is determined to make the most of his talent while he can.

His winter schedule, subject to selection, with the England Under-19 squad is both exciting and demanding in equal measure, with a diet of training camps and one-day matches geared towards giving England the best chance of success at the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Brisbane, Australia next August.

In December he hopes to head off to South Africa for a development camp; in January to Sri Lanka for a development camp; in February to Bangladesh for a one-day series; and in April to Australia for a four-team tournament also involving India and New Zealand in Brisbane. On top of that he could be going on a possible pre-season tour with Essex.

“I will hopefully be jet-setting everywhere like a full international cricketer over the course of the winter,” he mused.

“I fulfilled my expectations this season, but, to be honest, I can’t wait for next season and what lies ahead.”

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