Still only 20, Reece Topley has hardly hidden under the radar when it comes to county cricket. He burst on to the scene when still at school in 2011 and, with both first-class and List A averages in the mid-20s, cannot be far away from an England place.
The youngster suffered the first significant setback of his career in December, with a back injury ruling him out of an England Lions place in Sri Lanka as he attempted to get himself back and ready for the 2014 season.
The plan didn’t exactly work out for Topley, who only played his first Championship at the start of June, Essex instead allowed the player to develop his recovery further, a move praised by Reece’s father, Don, who was a county player himself at Chelmsford over 20 years ago
“Essex should take a lot of credit; they’ve been very responsible towards him and his back. Other counties may have wanted to bring him back sooner, but they were patient, you have to get it right. Chris Silverwood [Essex’s bowling coach] has been excellent, and the club have has with his rehab and his recovery.”
Whilst Don attributes an extent of praise to the Chelmsford county, he believes his son is as “thick-skinned” as he was during his playing days.
“It’s a lot about the mental aspect too. It’s about how confident he feels when he runs into bowl. He’s not bowling at the top of his game right now, as quick as he can, he’s still a little bit tentative.
“That will come with confidence and with playing, but Essex don’t want him to break down again this season. They have to be careful with him, and they’ve been so responsible with him so far.”
As well as the county and Reece himself, it’s fair to say that some of the fast bowler’s progression is down to his father, with Don now a coach at the Royal Hospital School, which Reece attended, after being journeyman cricketer playing over 270 professional games, over the course of the 1980s and 1990s.
Don also works as a BBC radio commentator at Chelmsford, where he and Reece gathered at lunchtime on Day Two of the game against Gloucestershire last week, continuing to chat over the youngster’s performance after he had recorded a five-wicket haul a day previous.
“I help him with his day to day coaching. I’m always on the end of a phone and I do spend a lot of time with Chris [Silverwood] and Reece. I know his game better than anyone.
“He always takes advice from me, we talked yesterday (during his five-wicket haul), and I texted him ‘You’ve got a lazy front arm, but make it your day’ It’s probably the worst I’ve seen him bowl this summer, but he got the wickets.
“Yesterday [Day One against Gloucestershire] was Reece’s day. He didn’t bowl particularly well but he got the wickets.”
As previously mentioned, there’s been a lot of clamour for the likes of Reece Topley and teammate Tymal Mills to be part of the England set-ups in spite of their tender ages. Both have already been noticed by England, whether that be as part of the Lions set-up, or acting as net bowlers for tours. Don, however, insists that the duo are not ready, but their chance is more than likely to arise in the future.
“Reece has all the assets to play international cricket in the future. His white ball skills are good, and he has talent in the one-day game. An area he will need to improve on is bowling in Powerplay overs, something to work on in the future. An observation, rather than a criticism.
“In red ball Championship cricket, he’ll get stronger and quicker, but his greatest asset is that he swings the ball. If you swing the ball, then you’re in the game in red-ball cricket no matter what the wicket is doing.
“Like with Reece and Tymal, people want instant gratification, but it’s barmy that these journalists are calling for these bowlers to be in the England squads. For one they’re not strong enough, two they’re not good enough. Their time will come.”
The junior Topley is a rare occurrence in the county game as a left-arm fast bowler, and may have perhaps been a part of England’s thoughts had the injury not struck. Instead, Nottinghamshire’s Harry Gurney gained the gig, and impressed for the international side when hosting Sri Lanka in an ODI series earlier this year.
Topley’s strength, as of most left-armers, is the ability to swing the ball. His father, however, believes that the 20 year old’s edge comes from beyond the physical aspect of the game.
“He has a very wise head on such a young man. He copes well with pressure, never gets the jitters or has any concern about a big game. He encompasses it, whereas some other cricketers will fall by the wayside.
“Reece has got a tremendous character. He used to enjoy when he was a youngster, bowling at the England squad, it was a tremendous honour for him to have to bowl at Test players when he was 15.”
They key to the development of Reece Topley seems to be patience. His recovery into the Essex side is not yet complete, and the club have done well not to rush him. His talent is undeniable, but he is not to be rushed into the England side unnecessarily with a risk of being undercooked.
Perhaps, in a strange way, his injury has been at the right time for the quick. Should he eventually become a part of an England side, it will be well worth the wait.