By Paul Eddison
Reece Topley is clear – do not lump him in the same bracket as Adil Rashid and Alex Hales. Where Rashid and Hales are trailblazers in abandoning Test cricket in favour of a white-ball career, fast bowler Topley is simply taking a temporary absence from the longer format of the game.
For the 24-year-old, the announcement this week that he would not play any red-ball cricket in 2018 is just part of the long, drawn out recovery process from a stress fracture – it just happens to have come at the most unfortunate time.
“Giving up red-ball cricket is something that had never crossed my mind. But it’s not a permanent thing, it’s to be reassessed in October,” said Topley.
“It’s a case of getting my feet under the table and getting through to October unscathed. This is the best chance of that. I need a year probably to harden the new bone that has grown. So I wanted to make sure it’s all hard when I come back and play four-day cricket.
“The timing is unfortunate with Rash and Halesy’s announcements. People are grouping us three as similar cases, white-ball mavericks, but I think my case is different.
“They are a separate case to mine and it should be viewed like that really.
“This year, I just want to get to October and look back having had a good summer and being injury-free. Then I’ll be able to build on that next year. It’s just a case of getting that amount of cricket under my belt and getting ready for next year.”
October 2018 is an important month for Topley and one he regularly brings up when talking about his long-term future.
He has not set any specific targets when it comes to overs, wickets or silverware this summer, all that matters is getting through the year with his body intact.
If he can do that, then his ambition of becoming the first left-arm quick to take 100 Test wickets for England becomes a possibility again.
The Hampshire quick will have to be patient – but after two injury-wrecked campaigns on the south coast, he is used to that. And yet, rather than get downbeat over his rotten injury luck, Topley is confident his misfortune is behind him after a winter on the ECB Pace Programme, first in South Africa and now in Spain.
He explained: “It’s been a brilliant winter which should hold me in good stead for the summer. I’m excited about this which I haven’t really been and haven’t felt like this for a long time because of all the hardships I’ve gone through in the last two seasons.
“I feel I’m due some fortune almost and I’m excited by how I’m performing. That’s down to Kevin Shine and a lot of different people I’ve sought advice from this winter.”
Of course, Topley has found himself in this position before, after all, in January last year he was still optimistic of playing a full season only to break down after bowling just 112 overs in total. That followed some intense work in the gym and getting into the best shape of his life, but Topley believes a different approach, more focused on cricket than fitness, will be the difference.
One key change has been the decision to avoid any bars on his shoulders and extra stress on his back. Instead he has been working closely with Shine and Matt Mason on the ECB Programme on the technical aspects of his bowling.
“The biggest thing for me was that I wasn’t fit to bowl last year, but I was a better athlete than before,” he said.
“I spent so much time out in the gym and I was ticking off goals so regularly, in terms of how quickly you can do this, how high you can jump, the body fat measurements. But there was still so much time before I could play again.
“With a stress fracture you spend three months out, but you’re not really playing until five months. So in terms of physical shape I was hitting all the targets but I still had another three months before I could bowl or play again.
“At the back end of last summer, I spoke with (ECB lead strength and conditioning coach) Rob Ahmun and (ECB lead physio) Ben Langley, and I’m indebted to them. They’ve listened to me. I told them that I’d turned over every stone from a fitness perspective, but I have ended up back here.
“What they have done is they have listened to my side of the story and then we’ve worked together to put something in place where I’m a fast bowler first. That needs to be the most functional thing and aided my game with the work. I’ve felt the transition this time.
“I spent so long trying to get my body right. I wasn’t fit for cricket. I was the fittest I’ve ever been but not cricket-specific fit.
“The work those guys have done with me has been brilliant. I am in great shape, but I’m in great shape to bowl this season.”
Topley has 16 England appearances to his name, but the last of those came at the World T20 back in 2016.
Since then he has been to the trenches by his own admission, and while he has been grateful for the support from family and friends, it’s been a long road.
He added: “The sad thing is that if it is a success, I’ll probably think to myself ‘why didn’t I do that a season earlier’.
But you can’t dwell on things.
“I’ve been through some lonely places and some tough places. That’s what happens with injuries, you’re on your own schedule and everyone else is getting on and doing it.
“You sort of ask yourself, why does this happen to me? All I can think of is that it’s dumb luck, but luck changes.
“I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think I will look back at this winter being invaluable to my development because of how far I’ve come. I’m happy and in a good place.”