Assumptions that Reece Topley’s cricketing career is over appear to be premature. There is at least a possibility that he will revive his professional career with Sussex in this summer’s Vitality Blast as he tries to pull off a remarkable recovery against the odds.
Topley has suffered four stress fractures to his back in recent years (two separate breaks that then reoccurred) and has not bowled a ball in competitive cricket since last July but following brief periods training with the Melbourne Renegades and Middlesex, he has pitched up at Hove.
“Reece has had some injury issues over the last 12 months and there was no guarantee that he’d ever play again,” said Sussex’s head coach, Jason Gillespie. “So we came to an arrangement whereby, with no pressure at all, he could come here, do some training and build his bowling back up.
“We’ve got the gym and we’ve got medical support and we said that if he was in a position to play some cricket later in the summer then we would explore that possibility. It’s very early days, he’s just building himself up and he’s going to play a little bit of club cricket but if he’s fit and firing, we know what a fine bowler he is.”
Topley is a free agent since leaving Hampshire after playing only 21 games in three years. Just to fulfil even a white-ball contract last season he had to inject a hormone in his stomach daily and once a month had an anaesthetic in his spine. But England Lions still took a look at him before he broke down and his 10 ODIs and six T20s for England are a reminder of his potential.
Sussex have kept faith with another left-arm quick, Tymal Mills despite a back condition that restricts him to T20 only. Mills’ life was changed with a £1.4m IPL deal with Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2017, but he went unsold in the subsequent seasons and had a disappointing Blast campaign in 2018, taking only seven wickets in nine matches.
Another player once billed as possessing England potential has an uncertain future, at 27. Less than three months ago, Adam Riley was talking optimistically about how the retirement of James Tredwell and flatter Division One surfaces might give his offspin more of an opportunity at Kent. But after taking only two expensive wickets in two Championship matches, he has left the county by mutual consent.
Riley was mentioned in despatches in the general panic about English spin-bowling resources when Graeme Swann abruptly retired during the 2012-13 Ashes series. He broke through as Kent’s first-choice spinner in four-day cricket in 2014, taking 48 wickets in 15 County Championship appearances, and made his England Lions debut against South Africa A in Bloemfontein in February 2015.
But England spin specialists tried to quicken his pace through the air and he was plagued by attempts to tweak his action.
Surrey’s Tasmanian head coach Michael di Venuto was flummoxed briefly at a members’ forum this week when he was asked whether Jason Roy should open for England in the Ashes. “Do you want the answer from me as Jason’s coach or from an Australian point of view?” he replied.
That answer pretty much gave away his thoughts, but di Venuto proceeded to articulate them anyway. “If I was England, and I am certainly not, I think the captain [Joe Root] should put his hand up and bat at No 3 and Jason would be a very good No 4 in Test cricket,” he said.
“I get where they are coming from – he is an exceptionally talented cricketer – but opening in Test cricket is extremely different to opening in one-day cricket. People make the comparison with David Warner, when Warner has been opening all his life. Jason is a middle-order player.”
Di Venuto thinks England should heed what he described as “the Aaron Finch experiment.” Finch, who will return to Surrey for the Blast this season, underlined his quality as a white-ball opener on Tuesday with his World Cup hundred against England. But he averaged a modest 27.80 in five Tests going in first against Pakistan and India last winter.
“The results could be the same,” Di Venuto warned. He would certainly be surprised if both Roy and Finch, whose World Cup form has also encouraged Ashes speculation, won the opportunity to open the innings when August comes around
This should have been the summer that Joe Clarke’s transfer to a big county helped him catch England’s eye ahead of the Ashes. Instead he has three ducks in his last four games and a top score of 29 in that time and Nottinghamshire are adrift at the foot of Division One without a Championship win for a year.
The fallout is still evident after a court case in which Alex Hepburn, a former Worcestershire team-mate, was found guilty of oral rape and jailed for five years in April. Clarke was not on trial, and neither was another former Worcestershire batsman, Tom Kohler-Cadmore, but they were both named at Worcester Crown Court as fellow members of a WhatsApp messaging group which boasted about sexual conquests. The judge called the sexual contest “pathetic, sexist and foul”.
Now the ECB has charged both Clarke and Kohler-Cadmore with bringing the game into disrepute, and England are in no rush to forgive.
There is always a question about when it is appropriate for a sport’s governing body to play the role of moral arbiter. But sports stars are role models whether they want to be or not and the ego-centric environment of professional sport clearly needs an element of intervention. Few will chide the ECB for taking this particular matter further and for the players to understand that would be a further stage towards redemption.
Warwickshire will feel they deserve a good result against Essex next month after long hours spent finding a venue for the Championship fixture between the sides. Ironically, the outcome announced this week of switching home and away meetings was their first-choice solution when a clash of scheduling with the World Cup became apparent last year.
Edgbaston will host a World Cup semi-final on July 11 and it is reserve venue for the final three days later, meaning the Essex game from July 13-16 must be staged elsewhere. Warwickshire were told initially that a swap with Essex was not possible and even asked about giving up reserve status for the final on the basis that it almost certainly won’t be needed.
Eventually, they chose Worcester as an alternative home, only for the latest heavy flooding of New Road to leave the ground unfit. So, with no other plausible option, what might well be viewed the best solution will prevail after all: July 13-16 at Chelmsford, September 10-13 at Edgbaston. Assuming, that is, Chelmsford avoids fire, plague or pestilence over the next three weeks.
Meanwhile, Surrey have reiterated their position to the ECB that The Oval should be used for part of the county’s 50-over competition next season, even though it is a venue for The Hundred in the same calendar block. “We will make sure we are not thrown out for the entire time period,” Richard Gould, the chief executive, said.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps
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