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Analysis

July 14 marks the moment Reece Topley moved to the top of the English ODI game

A man who couldn't have been further from England's 2019 World Cup win rises to the occasion

Reece Topley leaps for joy  •  AFP via Getty Images

Reece Topley leaps for joy  •  AFP via Getty Images

The throwbacks on social media began pretty much as soon as the clocks ticked over midnight. The highlights from that famous occasion at Lord's were on every screen big and small as the crowds filtered in ahead of this second ODI with India. Eoin Morgan, now retired, posed with Ben Stokes on the outfield before the start of play to recreate a photo taken just before England collected their trophy.
Three years isn't usually an anniversary to go big on. But being back at the venue where England won the 50-over World Cup final in that Super Over thriller against New Zealand on July 14th was reason enough.
Yet with six out of XI there on that day - Moeen Ali as 12th man - it was a man who could not have been further from that scene in every sense who rose to the occasion.
At that point in the 2019 summer, Reece Topley was preparing for what was to be his first appearance in well over a year: a T20 Blast match scheduled for July 19 between Hampshire and Sussex. The twist being Topley would be turning out for Sussex, having left the Ageas Bowl in the 2018 season. A move from Essex as a 21-year-old three years earlier was blighted by a injuries, the worst being two stress fractures of the back. When he departed Hampshire, he did so with a view that he might leave the game altogether. The pain he experienced each morning, the injections to the stomach he'd have to administer himself to get through games, along with monthly ones in his back, were becoming too much to bear.
The return to action was swifter than expected, even if that Blast game ended up being rained off. Just four days later, the reverse fixture at Hove finally gave Topley a competitive return in which he took 4 for 33. He went on to impress in the final half to the summer - with the red ball, too - and then made the move to Surrey. And now, with 6 for 24 to square the series ahead of Sunday's decider, the 28-year-old's name now carries pride of place not just on the Lord's honour's board, but in the history books.
Those figures are now the best by an Englishman in ODIs and the best for anyone in the format at this grand old ground. Included among them were both openers, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan, who butchered the first ODI's paltry target of 110 between them on Tuesday. Suryakumar Yadav, the last hope for chasing down the 247 target given he was coming off the back of a stunning 117 in the third T20I last Sunday, was his third before the tail made up the rest. When England were bowled out for 246 with an over to spare in their innings having been put in to bat, victory was by no means a given, even on a Lord's pitch that was far from flat. And yet, thanks to Topley, the margin was 100 runs in the host's favour.
"Delighted for him," was Jos Buttler's immediate reaction to Topley's performance, which gave the new skipper his first ODI win. "He's a very popular member of the team, he brings a lot of energy to the group and you know he's had quite an interesting story, you know: came into the game very early with Essex and and then had obviously back trouble and stuff. So, for him to come back from that and to take 6 for 24 today at Lord's is an incredibly special performance."
There is another timeline in an alternate dimension where Topley makes that World Cup squad. As Buttler alluded to, his story began early: first-class and List A debuts for Essex at 17, then T20 at 18 created buzz about a lanky left-armer. International white ball debuts came at the end of the 2015 season, when he had honed his craft.
He was regarded as a raw but easy-to-hone prospect in Morgan's white-ball plans, even making it on the trip to India in 2016 for the World T20. Then those injuries came and, thanks in part to split COVID-19 squads, a return in the 50-over squad came in 2020. And perhaps the best thing you could say about Topley in the time since then is that the injuries have been put so far behind him they almost feel irrelevant at this juncture.
Because it is clear, not just from this performance, that England regard him as a key difference-maker at a time when their usual aces - the out-and-out quicks - are on the sidelines. Jofra Archer and Mark Wood are a way off from returning, though there is hope from the management team that they could make a crack at this winter's T20 World Cup in October. The height, subsequent bounce, and ability to manipulate the seam both ways to get out proper players will be vital on Australia's flatter pitches.
"It's a tribute to his perseverance and his outlook on life and the game," said Buttler of Topley's ability to return and have progressed his skills. "He's had really tough experiences, not knowing if he would play again and that's given him a real sense of perspective and a real enjoyment when he's playing. He's got all the attributes to be a fantastic international bowler and delighted for him to get those results today".
At the end of the game, player of the match champagne in hand, Topley stopped before his media commitments to embrace his parents before taking a photo with them. Now, July 14 will be extra special for him. A moment he moved to the top of the English ODI game and one which showed he will be a key part in any future red letter days for the limited-overs side.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is a sportswriter for ESPNcricinfo