Cricket

Reece Topley's teenage pain turns to pleasure with England

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Reece Topley's fast-track to England colours this year is a far cry from his painful teenage experiences bowling to the best batsmen in the country.

Topley's progress has been seamless since joining England's limited-overs specialists initially in practice last summer, and the 21-year-old is on course for the ICC World Twenty20 in March.

It is all a jarring contrast from his unfortunate first encounters with England's best players as first Alastair Cook and then Kevin Pietersen left the young net bowler needing hospital treatment.

A Cook straight-drive broke his finger in one practice session - and then, still only 15 but a towering talent already, he was hit on the head when Kevin Pietersen smashed another back at him shortly before England's unsuccessful 2009 World Twenty20 campaign on home soil.

Topley has since overcome a stress fracture in his back which laid him up in 2014 and - standing 6ft 7in these days - is beginning to fit the bill as the left-armer England so badly want.

He is able to apply a little humour as he looks back on those historical friendly-fire injuries, courtesy of Cook and Pietersen.

"It might suggest I could work on my caught-and-bowled handiwork," he said.

"I've had my fair share of injuries that involved superstars."

There have been no such blips in recent times, and certainly not since Topley made his international debut less than three months ago.

He took three for 26 in England's opening one-day international defeat against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, and another three wickets as the tourists hit back to take the series 3-1.

As England turn their attentions to three Twenty20s to end their tour of the United Arab Emirates, Topley is highly-encouraged by the welcoming regime under coach Trevor Bayliss and captain Eoin Morgan.

"The dressing-room environment is second to none," he added.

"If you approach it with an open mind, there are so many opportunities to be had and things we can achieve as a team here.

"It's a learning culture. We know we're not the finished article - there's still a way for us to go - and it's amazing what we could achieve if we fulfil our potential."

Bayliss, in particular, has made a significant impression.

Topley added: "Trevor is a great coach and he's a great man - brilliant to talk to about cricket and great off the field, because he's had a lot more life experience than I've had."

England will face the UAE in their Twenty20 warm-up match at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium on Monday, with Topley likely to lead the attack again.

"England have been asking for left-armers for a while now, because there's been an absence of one in the team," he said.

"I saw an opportunity, (and) realised I could take it."

As for the series to follow against Pakistan, he has the chance not just to further his own World Twenty20 ambitions but help England make it two out of three following their 2-0 defeat in the Tests here.

"We all know the job's not done yet - we won't settle for just one series win," said Topley.

"Being a 21-year-old, this is the time of my life - I feel very proud and privileged to be where I am, and I've been surprised to play the way I have.

"Last year I had a stress fracture and spent a long time on the sidelines, so to get in the World Twenty20 squad would be amazing.

"A year ago I wouldn't have said that was possible - but now I'm involved in this series, everyone in that squad will have one eye on the World Cup coming up."

He is determined too, though, that he will not be pigeon-holed - either purely because he happens to bowl left arm, or as a limited-overs option only.

He wants to be in the team on true merit, not just as variety - and having just left Essex for Hampshire in search of Division One cricket, he aspires to high honours with the red ball as well as white.

"Whether you are a left-armer or right-armer, what matters is performances and contributing to the team," he said.

"You don't just get in because you are a left-armer - you need to bowl tightly or be a wicket-taking bowler.

"I still have a massive passion for first-class cricket, and it would be an absolute demon hanging over me if I was to be labelled a one-day bowler.

"I like to think that I'm not."

:: Possible England team (v UAE, in Abu Dhabi): EJG Morgan (Captain), JJ Roy, AD Hales, MM Ali, JM Vince, JC Buttler (wkt), SW Billings, DJ Willey, CJ Jordan, LE PLunkett, RJW Topley

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