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Reece Topley embraces the pressure in overdue return to T20I colours

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Published in Cricket
Monday, 24 January 2022 10:11

For Reece Topley, an exceptional return to T20 international cricket demonstrated exactly why England gave the tall left-armer a debut in 2015, aged just 21, and exactly why Eoin Morgan sees Topley as a crucial asset to England's hopes - not just for this series against West Indies, but also at the T20 World Cup later this year.

That he has only represented England 20 times since his debut speaks of a career filled with undoubted talent, yet one that has been damaged by career-threatening injuries. In 2018, Topley was phoned and told that he'd be a part of the England ODI squad against India that summer, only to be told the same day that he would need back surgery.

His terrific new-ball spell at Kensington Oval on Sunday evening set England up to level the series in a thriller in Barbados and marked the completion of a remarkable comeback into the England T20 side, almost six years since he last played the shortest format of the game at international level.

It was enough to indicate that maybe, there is a new phase ahead for Topley and England. For a man whose journey has required incredible patience, through continuous injuries and a period of depression and falling out of love with the game, Topley insisted that his career trajectory perhaps enabled him to see the game in a different light and not get too carried away with the highs and the lows of sport.

"I've probably had it slightly differently than other people that play international cricket, in terms of the journey that I've had," Topley said. "I think my perspective is quite unique and last night, I just embraced all the emotion after the game, and all the messages that came through."

Speaking the morning after the second T20I, he added: "I embraced it all, but then I'm very good at parking it. This morning, it's a new day and it's all about recovering and focusing on the third T20 [on Wednesday]. I don't really get too caught up in it. I'm lucky to be playing and I really enjoyed it at the end of the day. Almost having this second opportunity just makes me value it all a lot more."

On his first appearance in a T20I since playing for England at the 2016 T20 World Cup, Topley was the pick of the pace bowlers, trapping Brandon King for a duck with a full inswinger, before pulling off a spectacular run-out off his own bowling to remove Shai Hope after a devastating yorker. Ironically, replays showed that had England reviewed, Topley would have had one more in the wickets column.

He was denied another scalp when Nicholas Pooran was dropped by Liam Dawson but figures of 1 for 18 in his four overs - including 1 for 10 from three overs in the powerplay - summed up a thoroughly impressive and winning return to the England side.

Topley insisted that those experiences throughout those years ravaged by injury helped him to deal with difficult match scenarios, as it allowed him to see things from a different perspective.

"Even when I've been injured so much, you'd almost bite someone's hand off to play in a T20 and bowl four overs for 40-something," he said. "It's almost like, at least I'm out there. So then those bad days it's like, it won't be the last bad day I have. It's not like I haven't got this competitive instinct, it's just that I'm very realistic about things now, and very level-headed.

"I think that has boded well for me since coming back and playing, because those pressure scenarios, I just embrace them. I almost feel like it's normal to be nervous and it's exciting because it's a game on the line for your country. Who wouldn't be nervous? It's almost like it's normal, and I accept it. So, I think that's the perspective that I'm pretty lucky to have stumbled upon really."

Topley was a late addition to the England squad at the recent T20 World Cup as a replacement for the injured Tymal Mills and despite not playing in the UAE, he believed that the experience of being back within the T20 setup was invaluable.

"I've been around the squads so that made it pretty easy for me to fit back into things," Topley said. "I've been around the guys and training pretty well, so it was just more of the same, taking it out into the middle and a credit to everyone for helping with such a seamless transition. The white-ball squads are pretty similar in ODIs and T20s so being around that for the last few years has definitely helped."

After the World Cup, Topley joined the Melbourne Renegades - a team and a city close to his heart - after spending two summers in Melbourne during his prolonged rehabilitation from injury. It was where he rediscovered his love for the game.

Making his debut at the Big Bash was a decision also made with the intention of getting himself back within England's first-choice squad ahead of next winter's World Cup in Australia. Topley impressed taking nine wickets in seven matches, including 3 for 27 in the local derby against the Melbourne Stars.

On the pace-friendly wickets down under, England will certainly need quality options and given their recent problems with death bowling in the format, his display in Barbados stood out from the rest. While Chris Jordan went for 23 runs in the 18th and Saqib Mahmood went for 28 runs in the last, Topley followed up his wicket-taking new-ball spell with a penultimate over that was executed brilliantly, going for just eight.

"As a bowler, my currency is wickets," Topley said. "If you ask me I'd say that I can take wickets at any stage and in any format at the end of the day. It's what I get up in the morning for - to try and get batsmen out essentially. It's why I fell in love with cricket."

If Topley can carry on doing what he loves and closing games at the death, then there is every chance that he will be an integral part of England's ambitions of holding both the 50-over and the 20-over World Cups simultaneously, when they head to Australia in October.

Aadam Patel is a freelance sports reporter who has written for BBC Sport, the Daily Mail, ESPNcricinfo, the Cricketer and other publications @aadamp9

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