As often happens in cricket’s shortest format there has been an unexpected twist. Reece Topley is warming to the theme of left-arm bowlers providing the variety required to contain the almost continual onslaught by batsmen wielding willows only marginally lighter than Brian Blessed. Then he takes an unexpected tangent.
“Posing different questions has a lot to be said for it,” he says. “If you look at baseball, you have a squad of different pitchers – you’ve got left-handed pitchers, right-handed pitchers and then you’ve got your submarine pitchers. Cricket needs that variation too because you need to put the batsman off his rhythm as much as possible.”
A submarine pitcher? “You’ve got pitchers that throw over-arm normally but a submarine pitcher is someone who slings it at sort of knee height. Baseball teams know exactly the kind of pitcher they want to throw at each batsman and cricket is going that way too.
“Take this England as an example, we’ve got a good leg-spinner in Rash [Adil Rashid], an off-spinner in Mo [Moeen Ali], then the likes of Stokesy [Ben Stokes] and myself as a left-armer. The game is changing and in Twenty20 you need options.”
Topley, who recently joined Hampshire, is as engaging without the ball as he has been with it since making his England debut in a T20 international against Australia at Cardiff in August. His figures of 1-35 were unremarkable but England clearly saw something in his quick bowling they liked.
Seven months on, he is preparing to fly out to India for the World Twenty20 as one of the spearheads of England’s attack. It’s a challenge he is clearly looking forward to. “Going to play in a cricket World Cup in India is a bit like playing in the football World Cup in Brazil,” he says. “India might be the new home of cricket because it’s like a religion out there. Obviously Lord’s will always have that title but the passion for cricket out there is really going to make this World Cup an incredible experience.”
At the age of 22, Topley is from a generation that has experienced the explosion of Twenty20 cricket at first hand. Since the first World T20 in 2007 and the start of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008, cricket has changed out of all recognition. The challenge of being a bowler in the shortest form of the game has never been greater, but as run rates continue to climb and economy rates go through the roof, Topley believes there is still something to be said for the traditional values taught by county cricket in the crash, bang, wallop and mayhem of the Twenty20 game.
“There’s no magic formula for bowling in T20,” he says. “You learn things in the four-day game that you can bring across to the T20 game. I started off playing a lot of Championship cricket for Essex and then used what I had learnt in terms of varying pace and the angle of my deliveries and took it into the shorter forms of the game.
“It works the other way too; the more you bowl in T20 cricket the more skilful you become. That can only help your overall game.”
He will need everything he has learnt and possibly a bit extra when England come up against West Indies – semi-finalists in 2014 – in their opening group match in Mumbai on 16 March. Then, he’ll pace out his run-up, throw the ball from hand to hand before looking up to see the grinning figure of Chris Gayle staring back at him.
Boasting a strike rate of 142, Gayle’s last T20 international saw him score 90 off just 41 balls against South Africa in Johannesburg in January 2015. Topley, though, remains undaunted by the omnipresent threat of a batsman attempting to launch the Englishman’s bowling into the outer reaches of space.
“All bowlers have times when they wish they were batsman but where would the fun be in that,” he says, tongue set firmly in cheek.
“These guys are only batsmen like everyone else. Players like Gayle and AB de Villiers are obviously very good players but you know they’re only human. Some people can build it up in their head and put themselves under extra pressure but they can get out for nought like everyone else. You just have to believe in yourself that you can do that.”
Topley’s self-belief has been sorely tested in the past two years following a stress fracture to the back that threatened to derail the lightning progress he had made since his debut for Essex as a 17-year-old in April 2011.
It’s a measure of his growing maturity and his determination to battle back from that injury that he puts down much of his recent form to the lessons learnt from his time on the sidelines at Chelmsford.
“If I’m honest, I think I’m really better off for having the stress fracture because it brought me back down to earth,” he says. “I’m very lucky with the way it happened. I was able to just have a winter off and get back to full fitness. Since then, I’ve put on a bit of pace and I’m embracing everything that has been offered to me, first by Essex and then by Hampshire, in terms of fitness coaches and nutritionists.
“It took a bit of a lifestyle change from me to become a more professional person but everything you do with your body and lifestyle is an investment and hopefully you’ll get your returns further down the line.”
Topley’s international one-day stats are currently more impressive than his record in Twenty20 cricket but he has shown enough in both formats to suggest that he will be one of the first names on the team sheet for that World Cup opener in Mumbai.
Once hospitalised by a brutal Kevin Pietersen flat-bat drive while bowling in the England nets at the age of 15, he has already clearly come a long way. Now Topley is ready to land some knockout blows of his own.Reuse content