Reece Topley’s tall order for England offers a refreshing change

Cricket Stumps

“We want to wrap it up in the next game, put this series to bed and hopefully go for a 5-0.”

Thus spoke Reece Topley, the youngest, tallest man in the England team and the only one who does not have much idea how to hold a bat..

This truly is the age of multidimensional cricketers, which Duncan Fletcher always sought as England coach but only found sporadically. Topley is the one specialist, non-batting bowler in the team. So they must treasure him. His assets are that he is left-handed and unfamiliar to international batsmen; he has a good idea of where the ball is going to land, sometimes he finds swing and he has at his disposal a wide variety of slower balls. And at 21 there is his bright-eyed, uncomplicated joy of playing in a successful England team.

Hence Topley is happy to pluck out the notion of a 5-0 whitewash so early in the series. It has proven to be a good time for him to join the England side and he is making the most of it after his four for 50 at Port Elizabeth helped England to a 2-0 series lead. It would be a huge surprise if he was not included in the World Twenty20 squad, which is to be announced on Wednesday.

Likewise England show no sign of changing a winning formula for Tuesday’s game in Centurion. Curiously they have Stuart Broad, one of England’s greatest bowlers, in their company. However, he appears to be here only as injury cover and, to his credit, has accepted that and is mucking in cheerfully rather than grumping around at the humiliation of it all.

Topley may be wide-eyed but he speaks knowledgeably about the game, plucking out a parallel with Nathan Bracken, the Australian bowler of the first decade of this century, as another successful left-arm ODI specialist. And Topley knows enough to be grateful for the faith shown in him by his England captain, Eoin Morgan.

“Morgs has stuck to the method that has been quite successful recently,” Topley said. “We’re in such a brilliant place at the minute. We’re all just enjoying ourselves, which is the bottom line and we’re having a lot of fun doing what we love.” (This sounds so much more uplifting than having a good/bad day at the office.) “I know Broady is here and he’s a terrific bowler, someone I can look up to and take a lot of advice from. His experience is valuable but I am thankful I’m still playing and I don’t want the ride to end.”

Topley, who has been on the winning side in five of his seven ODIs and in both his T20 outings, is happy to elaborate further upon the feelgood factor within the squad. “Having split captaincy is a good thing and Morgs has been amazing as skipper,” he said. “He has got such a clear image of what he wants the team to be. Morgs, Trev [Trevor Bayliss] and Farbs [Paul Farbrace] just filter down to us how we want to play and how we can trust our feelings out on the pitch.”

This outlines how subtly Bayliss runs the operation – or how he does not. The England coach empowers his captain as most of the best coaches in cricket do. This was evident throughout the Test series when Alastair Cook seemed a more confident leader. By the same token, Morgan is now the indisputable man in charge of white-ball cricket, confident in his opinions and his decisions, articulate in expressing them.

It would be some achievement for Morgan to lead England to victory here. South Africa have not lost both the Test and the one-day series at home for 14 years when Australia prevailed. The home side are rattled, however calmly Hashim Amla appeared on the eve of the match.

Amla acknowledged one of England’s strengths: “They bat to No10 [just before Topley appears]. Rashid is there and he has lots of first-class hundreds. Batting so deep allows them to attack up the order. They are in a fortunate position because they have the personnel.”

Just at the moment South Africa do not. Batting deep was their province in the days of Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener and Nicky Boje and, more recently, Jacques Kallis. Now, unlike England, they are struggling to balance their side. Centurion can offer up plenty of runs. In the last three matches here, the side batting first has exceeded 300, so there is case for South Africa to include another bowler. As for the toss, it may not be crucial apart from the possibility of the odd thunderstorm intervening.

Powered by article was written by Vic Marks in Johannesburg, for The Guardian on Monday 8th February 2016 15.03 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010