With the 2015 season on the horizon, Chris Clark talks to Essex fast bowler Reece Topley about all things cricket, with a bit of daytime television thrown into the mix too.
As an 11-year old, I had high hopes that I was going to open the bowling for England when I was older. My dad put in plenty of work giving me practice, we set up the stumps in the driveway, and he then chalked a square 50cm by 50cm just outside off stump. For hours I practiced bowling into this square, not interested in hitting the wickets.
As a left armer bowler, like Reece Topley, I was be-sotted with Wasim Akram. Whilst he was making England look foolish, I was in my element. I was going to be England’s Wasim Akram.
When the summer came, and school cricket was being played, I run amok. I was quite tall as a kid, so the opposition schools had to contend with this gangly bowling machine. I skittled all the teams, as my school made in it into the final, for the first time in their history.
So now you’re all wondering how that final went…we lost by 10 wickets. I didn’t get a wicket in my first two overs, I panicked, and then proceeded to bowl like a drain.
This was the pinnacle of my cricketing career, again so early.
Sportsmen peak at different times in their career, but looking back on mine, to peak at 12 is particularly galling. Alas I was never to be English cricket’s left arm hope, but recently I’ve spoken to another young left arm quick bowler, who has high hopes the future.
Reece Topley at the age of 21 is already a fixture in the Essex side, and has represented England at England U19 level. Unfortunately Reece has suffered with back trouble the last couple of seasons, so I started off by asking him how he was feeling physically…
What have you been doing this winter? Have you fully recovered from your back troubles?
I have been working hard in the gym, made a lot of progressions there physically. I managed to get away to France to watch the ASP World Surf Championships. Also, I attended the PCA AGM in the Algarve and holidayed just before Christmas to Barbados.
I remember watching your dad (Don Topley) play, when I was a lot younger! What did he teach you about bowling when you were developing?
Yeah, me and my father always played “Test matches” in the garden all school holidays. I was always the World XI and would pretend to be Wasim Akram, Brett Lee or Matthew Hayden and he was Zimbabwe. Whenever we played cricket he would be coaching me and I have always swung the ball because of it.
You mentioned Wasim, Lee and Hayden, who did you model your game on? I used to be a left arm fast bowler, and I tried modelling myself on Wasim Akram. However I was never good enough to replicate him!
I don’t look at anyone really and model myself on them. I watched Wasim Akram a lot as I believe he is the pinnacle of left arm bowlers. He has set the benchmark for any left armer. I had the privilege when I was away at the U19 World Cup to meet with Wasim and his wife in a bar in Townsville. I spoke to him for about two hours and I view that as one of the most amazing experiences in my career so far.
Did you instantly fall in love with cricket as a youngster, as your dad was a player? Or were you interested in other sports, and do you fancy yourself as a bit of a player at some of those?
I love cricket, but I also love football. I was a keen footballer in the winter and a keen cricketer in the summer, it was season dependent. I also played hockey and rugby and i enjoyed them massively.
What advice would you give to schoolchildren who want to become fast bowlers? Is practice, practice, practice the key?
Yes, but also it’s the hardest job in the game and takes a strong character to be a bowler. It’s mentally tough and physically tough.
What are your aims for this season?
My sole aim is just to get to October without any injuries this season. The last year and a half have been absolute hell for me, having two stress fractures and having so much time out of the game. From a team perspective I would love to win a trophy this year with the rest of the Essex boys.
What format of cricket do you prefer bowling in? First-class / One Day / Twenty20
I love bowling full stop. I enjoy the challenge of going to battle with a batsman in four-day cricket and the tactical side of cricket in the limited over game. The atmosphere is obviously amazing in Twenty20 cricket and is brilliant to perform in front of. I really enjoy bowling at the death because its a great time to put all the momentum in your teams favour and pick up some key wickets and stem the flow of runs.
What would you say your bowling strengths are?
My swing is a good weapon for me. In four-day cricket I swing the red ball a lot and consistently. Also, when the ball gets very old and also in white ball cricket I use reverse swing as my main weapon. Also like I just said I feel I bowl well at the end of a limited-over innings.
What’s your highest score with the bat? Are you always looking to improve?
My highest score ever is 149 for Colchester U16s in the Essex matchplay tournament. However if you look at my professional batting record you would feel my best batting days are behind me!
When you bat in first-class cricket, is the temptation there, just to give it a whack!?
The temptation is the to give it a whack but if you get out doing that I would advise hiding from the coaches for the rest of the day!
What do you do to unwind away from cricket?
I love getting away and experiencing different cultures. I have been away with Jaik Mickleburgh and Mark Pettini a lot recently. We watched the World Surf Champs in Hossegor near Biarritz. I watch a lot of sport, mostly Ipswich Town this winter at Portman Road. Another one of my past times is cinema, I am a huge film fanatic and love acting and all the surrounds it.
What kind of music/TV/films do you like then?
Music, I like anything depending on my mood.
TV, I must admit i love a bit of Jeremy Kyle and was amazed when I had lunch next to him at Sandy Lane when I recently visited Barbados.
Jeremy Kyle!?! So did you say anything to him then?
No sadly I was star-struck.
You mentioned acting, so who are your favourite actors?
I enjoy Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio. I think they are stunning in all their roles.
Who are your friends in cricket?
All the Essex boys are great value! I probably get up to most mischief with Mark Pettini. Ravi Bopara is hilarious, he is harsh with his banter and very quick witted.
Apart from Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, there are places available in the England bowling line ups for a quick tall paceman. You certainly fit the criteria. Is an England Test cap the ultimate ambition?
100%. My goal for as long as I can remember has been to be the first left arm bowler for England to 100 test wickets.
How well can Essex do this season?
I feel we will get a trophy this year. If we won a one day competition and finished in the top two in the championship, it would be a huge season and go down in history for Essex.
England had a disappointing World Cup. What can be done to change our fortunes in One Day cricket?
I think Alex Hales should have been opening for England for the last year. He can take it to the opposition in a similar way to Aaron Finch does for Australia. Also, Cooky (Alastair Cook) shouldn’t have been dropped at the 11th hour. The whole squad had to adjust after 3 years of work leading to the World Cup. I do think that this rattled the England side.
If you were being held hostage, and your kidnappers said you must be pick one batsmen to score a 100,what batsman would you pick?!
Alastair Cook. Form is temporary class is permanent. He is still an amazing player.
What do you make of the cricket pundits on Sky. Do you have a particular favourite?
I like Andrew Strauss, he has a great cricket brain and it comes across when he is on Sky. Rob Key also talks brilliantly when he commentates, and is still a very good player for Kent.
Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
I would like to be playing for England and making them a dominant force in world cricket again. Also, I want to be playing in Division 1 for Essex.
If Reece can get off to a quick start to the season, and get amongst the wickets, whose to say the England selectors won’t come calling. English cricket is crying out for a tall left arm quick bowler, who can bowl in all formats of the game. Could this be Reece Topley’s time?