'Consistent' Topley relishes World Cup experience
England's left-arm fast bowler Reece Topley has finished the 2012 Under-19 World Cup in Queensland as the top wicket-taker: 19 wickets at an average of 9.10 and economy of 3.17. His performance helped England end the tournament fifth out of 16 teams, after they were knocked out in the quarterfinals by South Africa.
Topley's haul is the second highest for bowlers at all Under-19 World Cups, level with Riaz Afridi (Pakistan, 2004), Mushtaq Ahmed (Pakistan, 1988) and Wayne Holdsworth (Australia, 1988). However, all of those other bowlers played at least eight matches in the tournament, compared to Topley's six. Even the leading wicket-taker in an Under-19 World Cup, Bangladesh's Enamul Haque junior, played eight matches for his 22 wickets in the 2004 competition.
"Very proud. It's nice to see the rewards for all the hard work and the hours that I have put in in the nets to come through in the field," Topley said of his achievement. "It's nice to perform consistently. I felt like I was in rhythm throughout the tournament. I was also in rhythm coming to the tournament and I have just continued that bit of good form. Coming towards the end of the season now so it looks like I've finished on a high. I came to the tournament just literally thinking 'I hope I bowl alright'."
Topley began his World Cup by breaking Jimmy Peirson's middle stump with his second ball of the opening game against Australia. He took 2 for 33 in that match, bowling at serious pace and getting steep bounce on the Tony Ireland pitch, and said that performance had given him a lot of confidence.
"I think it kickstarted my World Cup if you know what I mean," he said. "I took a lot of confidence from the first game and it's just nice to have continued the form throughout the whole tournament and not have dips and things. It's been a nice consistent level."
Topley took at least three wickets in every game after that, winning two Man-of-the-Match awards, but rated his 5 for 32 against Bangladesh in the semi-final for fifth place as his best. "It was the first time that I have got five wickets in an Under-19 game and the team won it as well so I felt like I contributed to the victory."
Apart from his prolific wicket-taking, Topley also impressed with his control over his line and lengths, and the ability to not get carried away by the extravagant assistance that has been on offer on some of these pitches. His economy-rate of 3.17 is fifth-best among bowlers who have bowled at least 25 overs in the tournament.
"Obviously I'm pleased with taking the wickets but I came here with the aim of keeping things tight because that's what I really pride myself on: my accuracy and my control," Topley said. "I think it is just bowling in what I call the business area. It's making the batsmen play at as many balls as possible and trying to get them out and looking dangerous. I've got to try and bowl a high percentage of my balls as wicket-taking deliveries and the pressure being put on the batsmen thereafter."
Some of the leading bowlers in Under-19 World Cups past - Mushtaq, Tim Southee, Tim Bresnan and Wayne Parnell to name a few - have gone on to play for their countries' senior teams and Topley could follow suit in the future. Like Steven Finn, who played for England Under-19 in 2008 and is now part of the Test squad. "If things work out in the same way that they have for them, I'll be a very happy man at the end of the day," Topley said. "If it doesn't, I can take away that I've had a really pleasing time here and I've enjoyed it thoroughly."
When asked if he had a fast bowler for an idol, or someone he emulated, Topley did not pick anyone from England or the greats from Australia. He said it was India's left-arm swing bowler Zaheer Khan. "I just like the way he [Zaheer] approaches the game and how he performs, how he swings the ball, things like that," Topley said. "To do how well he has done playing on subcontinent wickets is certainly quite special. Especially the recent game at the last World Cup, England v India, when he got [Andrew] Strauss out, and things like that just stick in my mind."
Topley said his experience at the Under-19 World Cup had helped him learn the importance of patience for a bowler. "Fifty overs is a lot longer than you think and you don't have to bowl the opposition out," he said. "It's all about constricting them and you can get your wickets through doing that."
He also said he'd become more attuned to the challenges of bowling on a large outfield, like the one at Tony Ireland Stadium. "There's a lot more gaps in the field. There's a lot more spaces for the batsmen to hit," he said. "The fielders have to cover a larger area and if a batsman is trying to get after you, there's a lot more gaps the ball could fall in, rather than playing on a small field where the gaps aren't that big. It's all about working out angles and things like that as well, coming over and round the wicket."
Topley's only 18 and so has another year of Under-19s cricket in him but the future is filled with possibilities - more county cricket and, if he continues his form, emerging players gigs and maybe even some for the Lions in the future. However, after his stellar performances in Australia, Topley is "just waiting and seeing to be honest."
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo