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Feature

Reece Topley's hard yards overcome Trent Bridge's bowlers' graveyard

Fast bowler impresses in game of more than 400 runs by keeping a clear mind amid chaos

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
10-Jul-2022
Reece Topley struck first ball to dismiss Rishabh Pant  •  Getty Images

Reece Topley struck first ball to dismiss Rishabh Pant  •  Getty Images

Few venues in world cricket have as intimidating a reputation for T20 bowlers as Trent Bridge. The pitches are flat, the outfield is scorched and the boundaries are unforgiving: there is one relatively long pocket, where sixes require a 75-metre hit, but the square boundaries barely measure 65 metres.
In that context, England's decision to pick an extra batter in this game - they dropped Sam Curran for Phil Salt - was a gamble, one which was vindicated by their 17-run win. The combination of Liam Livingstone and Moeen Ali's spin, sharing the fifth bowler's allocation, was hammered, taken for 67 runs in their four overs, but Reece Topley's spell of 3 for 22 proved decisive.
Topley was the only bowler on either side to finish with an economy rate below 7.5 and was rewarded with the player-of-the-match award. ESPNcricinfo's impact algorithm suggested that Suryakumar Yadav was the best performer by a considerable distance, but also that Topley's wickets - he dismissed Rohit Sharma, Rishabh Pant and Shreyas Iyer - were worth considerably more than the scorecard showed.
Topley's method was simple, hitting hard lengths and looking to cramp India's batters for room. According to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, only two of his 24 balls were fuller than a good length, with the vast majority bowled into the pitch while varying his speeds. "The batters came off and said that changes of pace into the middle of the wicket were the hardest to face," he explained.
He struck twice in the powerplay, including with his first ball when Pant inside-edged a length ball into his pad and through to Jos Buttler, then with the last ball of his second over as Sharma failed to pick his slower ball and dragged a pull straight down deep midwicket's throat. At the Ageas Bowl he had bowled three overs in the powerplay but Buttler saved his third for the 12th, when he conceded only five singles.
When he returned for his final over, India needed 66 runs off the last 30 balls to seal a series sweep. Yadav was flying, dominating a partnership worth 119 in 10.1 overs with Shreyas. Buttler needed a wicket, and Topley delivered: Shreyas scurried outside leg but Topley followed him with a short ball, cramping him for room and inducing a feather through to Buttler.
The rest of his over was just as cagey: he conceded just a single from four balls to Dinesh Karthik, repeatedly foxing him with his hard lengths, and while Suryakumar dabbed his last ball away for four, he had pushed the required rate up past 15 an over, which would prove insurmountable.
Some cricketers spend every waking hour thinking about the game but Topley, by his own admission, is not like that. He admitted himself that he is "not a massive cricket-watcher" and was taken aback by Suryakumar's innings, full of "some amazing shots - shots I haven't seen before", but he stuck to his clear plan, seemingly helped by his ability to switch off and "isolate every ball".
"Bowling these days is a bit of a thankless task but you've just got to put your hand up and be brave," he said. "One day it doesn't go your way and you're the villain and you have to get yourself up for the next game to try and be the hero. Bowlers nowadays have almost got more to learn mentally about T20 cricket - perhaps more than the skills.
"There's other games where things don't fall your way and you get 1 for 40, or whatever. You've got to ride the high when things fall your way because the game is pretty fickle and there's a lot of days where it doesn't."
Topley did not feature for England at last year's T20 World Cup but has taken the opportunities that have come his way this year: first in Barbados against West Indies and now against India: he has seven wickets in six T20Is this year, with an excellent economy rate of exactly seven an over.
He is part of the squad that will play next week's ODIs against India and is now certain to win further chances against South Africa. He bowls in the mid-80s mph (130s kph) and generates steep bounce thanks to his height, which could be an asset in all phases of an innings in Australia come this year's World Cup.
"Since the start of this year, I think I've taken all the opportunities that have come my way," he said. "But [with a] new coach and a new captain, there's new people to try and impress. In my head, it's back to square one - try to impress the right people. But ultimately it's about getting wins as a team and trying, with every game, to work out how we're getting one step closer to trying to win the World Cup in October."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98