England bowler REECE TOPLEY opens up on his horror injury ordeal – and how he nearly walked away from cricket – but is now looking ahead to a World Cup that could define him

For a man with an injury history as long as his 6ft 7in frame, Reece Topley cuts a relaxed figure as he soaks up the Cardiff sun and looks ahead to a World Cup that he knows could define him.

Last year in India, he broke a finger four games into England’s ill-fated 50-over title defence. Six months earlier, he had dislocated a shoulder at the IPL. In late 2022, he missed England’s T20 World Cup triumph in Australia after treading on the boundary foam in practice and injuring his ankle.

He has had too many stress fractures of the back to mention, and in 2016 a bouncer from Boyd Rankin broke his hand on debut for Hampshire. Back in 2009, when Topley was 15, he needed stitches after being hit on the head in the nets by a straight-drive from Kevin Pietersen.

You would think he’d had enough by now. And he very nearly did. The mishap in Brisbane before the last T20 World Cup left him with what he called ‘PTSD about getting on the plane again’. A few years earlier, after more back surgery, he was told his career might be over.

Mentally, he had checked out of cricket. Now, he is set to lead England’s attack in the Caribbean with Jofra Archer and Mark Wood as they seek to defend the title they won in Australia without him. It’s hard to think of a player more deserving of a bit of luck.

Reece Topley says the pain from numerous injuries focuses his mind at the crease 

Last year in India, he broke a finger four games into England’s ill-fated 50-over title defence

Topley receives treatment from the England team physio during a 2023 World Cup match

But Topley is past feeling sorry for himself. At 30, he is in the prime of his fast-bowling life, and — it’s easy to forget — still possesses England’s best one-day figures: six for 24 against India at Lord’s in 2022. That day, he combined all his assets — height, pace, bounce, left-arm swing, accuracy — to bundle out a star-studded team for 146.

He wants more of that now, preferably at a World Cup. And he believes his misfortune with injuries puts him in the right state of mind to succeed.

‘It definitely gives me extra motivation,’ he tells Mail Sport. ‘The weirdest thing is I don’t feel any pressure any more, because I’ve actually downed all my tools once before and almost walked away from cricket.

‘I’m here because I want to be, and at peace with the fact that whatever happens, happens. It’s a weird space to be in, but something I benefit from. I try to use that horrible year or two I had with injuries as a superpower.

‘There’s a lot more to life than what happens on the field. Obviously you want to win games and global events, but failure and messing up are all part of it. I don’t really fear that any more.’

Topley shows off one of his more visible battle scars, sustained during England’s World Cup mauling by South Africa in the humidity of Mumbai last October, when he dived for the ball in his follow-through and broke his left index finger in three places. 

The top joint is bent at almost 45 degrees towards the middle finger — a reminder, perhaps, not to get too far ahead of himself.

Topley has suffered a horrific injury ordeal that saw him almost quit cricket altogether

Remarkably, with the help of anaesthetic and strapping, he carried on bowling that day, even taking the wickets of Aiden Markram and David Miller in successive overs. Heinrich Klaasen and Marco Jansen, however, twigged that Topley’s lack of sensation in the fingers meant subtle changes of pace weren’t possible, and his last two overs disappeared for 45.

Not that he was fazed. ‘Even when I was getting hit around, I was thinking, “Just take it in, I’m going home tomorrow”,’ he says. ‘I was on the first flight to California and chilled out for five weeks.’

But Topley is past feeling sorry for himself. At 30, he is in the prime of his fast-bowling life

The remark looks more flippant on the page than it sounded in person. Topley’s point is that he has things in perspective now — which doesn’t lessen his desperation to win a World Cup. 

‘ICC events and Ashes series are where you etch yourself in history,’ he says. ‘People still talk about the England side that went to the T20 World Cup in the Caribbean and won in 2010. You miss an opportunity to become part of cricketing folklore. That’s the gutting part. But as soon as an injury happens, within two or three hours I’m over it, thinking, “What’s needed to get back on the field?”’

Topley, who took three for 41 in England’s T20 warm-up win over Pakistan on Saturday and could be involved in today’s series finale at The Oval, has a c.v. of a white-ball specialist: he has played for eight franchise sides in six countries, while his most recent red-ball outing was in April 2022, for Surrey.

His first-class record is impressive: 163 wickets at 26. And he is convinced he would ‘swing it all day’ if he was given the chance at Test level — a tempting thought now that the Broad-Anderson era is all but over.

But Topley’s belief that a Test career is beyond him sums up cricket’s direction of travel. ‘I know I’d contribute in a good way,’ he says. ‘I’ve got a body of work in my stats, but I don’t think that’s enough to get selected. I’m not going to not go to the IPL, which clashes with championship cricket. At the end of the year, when there’s championship cricket again, we have a white-ball series against Australia. I’d love to play red-ball, but where do you fit it in?

Now the 6ft 7in bowler is looking ahead to a World Cup that he knows could define him

‘I don’t think that bridge will ever be crossed between myself and Ben (Stokes). I’ve got enough confidence and experience to know that if I was thrown the ball in a Test, I’d contribute in a positive way.’

For now, he is focused on trying to emerge intact from white-ball matches in which batsmen have taken six-hitting to a new level.

‘You’ve got Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult, and I can’t remember too many other fast bowlers who did well at that IPL,’ he says. ‘You become more valuable if you do well, but as a bowler now you’re more in the business of problem-solving than going out and expressing your trade. You’re constantly reacting to people messing with the rules.’

Despite his misgivings, Topley is targeting another T20 competition beyond this World Cup, which starts on Sunday. ‘An interesting one for me is the Olympics,’ he says, with cricket set to be included at Los Angeles 2028, 128 years after its only previous appearance, in Paris. ‘I’ll be 34, and it’ll be a nice one to aim for.’

Given what Topley has been through, who would begrudge him finishing with a gold medal?

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