Fit-again Topley hoping to repay Hampshire's faith
Reece Topley has admitted there have been "some dark days" in his long journey back to fitness and described the prospect of returning to action on Friday in Hampshire's match against Yorkshire as like a second debut.
Topley, the left-arm swing bowler, has not bowled in a first-class match since July 2015 and a succession of injuries has meant that, 18 months since a high-profile move to Hampshire, he has yet to bowl for them in competitive cricket.
He was in the Hampshire side that played Warwickshire at the start of last season but, a few hours into the first day, he suffered a broken hand while batting against Boyd Rankin that ruled him out for several weeks. While recovering from that injury, he discovered he also had a stress fracture in the lower back. Then, in January of this year, he learned that he required shoulder surgery as the result of ligament damage caused by diving in the field in a T20 against South Africa in Cape Town in February 2016.
Now, at last, he is ready to return. He has been included in the squad to face Yorkshire at the Ageas Bowl and, while he could yet miss out to the legspinner Mason Crane, it seems a return is imminent.
"It can seem there is no light at the end of the tunnel when you're in the gym on your own, day after day, week after week," Topley told ESPNcricinfo. "And there have been some dark days.
"I never thought I wouldn't play again, or anything like that. But it's frustrating to see other people taking their chances and moving ahead of you. And I've felt bad for Hampshire who have shown such faith in me and I haven't been able to repay it."
It is not hard to see why the England management rate Topley. Tall, left-arm and blessed with a good armoury of skills - not least the ability to swing the ball - he has already played 10 ODIs and six T20Is and, but for the injuries, might well have been in the shake-up for England's Champions Trophy squad.
His fitness is a worry, though. He suffered two stress fractures in the lower back while at Essex (the second probably because he returned from the first too early) and a third in a slightly different spot (though still in the lower back) after the move to Hampshire.
Topley has played just 32 first-class games in a career that is now entering its seventh season and there must be a concern that, like Tymal Mills who broke through at Essex at pretty much the same time, he simply does not have the body to support the rigours of first-class cricket. What sometimes looks to be the world at his feet at other times appears to be fragments of his vertebrae.
"Of course I want to play for England again," he said. "I know a return isn't imminent, but hopefully I can get some overs under my belt now and go from there. I'm probably a better white-ball bowler at this stage, but I've aspirations in all forms of the game. I think I've added some pace since the last time I played and I can't wait to get out there and show what I can do.
"I've very excited. A bit nervous, too. Hampshire have been very good to me throughout this period and I'm desperate to repay that by helping them win some games."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo