Renegades recruit returns after career-saving summer
Reece Topley was at his lowest ebb when the Melbourne Renegades took him under their wing in 2018-19. Now the left-arm quick – who has been drafted into England's T20 World Cup squad – is returning to the club for BBL|11
4 November 2021, 10:21 AM AEST
England's towering quick Reece Topley once said he would "struggle to ever repay" the Melbourne Renegades for the role the club played in getting the injured left-armer back on his feet two years ago.
The 27-year-old will have the perfect chance this summer, having signed on as the club's first international recruit for KFC BBL|11, promising searing new-ball pace and swing and death-over yorkers.
Topley was overnight added to England's T20 World Cup squad after Tymal Mils was ruled out with a right thigh injury, joining the full group for their push into the tournament's semi-finals.
The 201cm giant first linked up with the Renegades at one of his lowest ebbs in the 2018-19 summer, having turned his back on the game in frustration following back surgery after his fourth stress fracture in five years.
Topley's close relationship with Renegades team manager Mark Pettini, a former Essex captain, and fellow tearaway fast bowler Shaun Tait saw him link up with the club, who were on their way to claiming the title in BBL|08.
A few months earlier, Topley hit rock bottom when a phone call announcing he'd been selected in England's ODI squad was followed by another confirming he would need back surgery.
After walking away from the game, living abroad in Germany and considering alternative career paths like becoming a lawyer or financial analyst, a move to Melbourne proved to be something of a new dawn.
"I walked away from (cricket), had the surgery, and just had fun rebuilding. I went to Australia in the (northern) winter and hung around the Melbourne Renegades, Cricket Victoria and my best friends Mark Pettini and Shaun Tait, and they gave me a fresh love for the game," Topley told The Cricketer website last year.
"I was Reece the human again and could do what I wanted: go to the beach in the mornings, have a bowl in the nets in the afternoons.
"It was more of a holistic approach than a science-based one – no structure, just about doing what made me happy.
"The Renegades went on to win the Big Bash that year and they supported and encouraged me all the way saying: 'Don't worry, you're good, just take it slowly and one step at a time'.
"It wasn't like they had any contractual obligations to help me, it was just because they're such great people and were all so inclusive and open to me asking questions.
"I was in a bad place but there were people helping me off their own back with the most amazing displays of kindness. It was a pleasure to get to know everyone and I'll struggle to ever repay them."
Topley, who made his international debut against Australia in a Cardiff T20 in 2015, was with the Renegades as they completed a remarkable about-face in the BBL|08 final to storm to the title past their cross-town rivals the Stars, and partied long into the night with the club.
"I was at the game and I've got some incredible memories from that night," Topley said this week.
Before walking away from the game, Topley was injecting himself daily with hormones "in order to make playing bearable" and had monthly injections in his back.
"I couldn't walk without some degree of pain, and something needed to change," he said of that period.
From those first steps back into the sport with the 'Gades in early 2019, Topley has been on an upward curve that has been a polar opposite to the Melbourne club's downfall since their title win.
The early work with the Renegades allowed Topley to "enjoy being me again" and extensive rebuilding of his action and his body paid dividends, as he blew away all expectations to star for Sussex in the 2019 season of T20 cricket.
A move to Surrey continued that progress and he returned to England's set-up in 2020, playing an ODI against Ireland, ending a four-year absence from the national team.
1,597 days since he last wore the shirt 🦁 Determination and dedication 💪 Well bowled, Reece Topley 👏 Live score/clips: https://t.co/adTn6YbszF pic.twitter.com/VAv6z5l6To— England Cricket (@englandcricket) August 1, 2020
Two further ODIs followed earlier this year on England's tour of India and while he's not played T20 cricket for England since 2016, he was added to England's World Cup squad when Sam Curran was ruled out of the tournament.
Whether he will get his chance with England in the coming weeks remains to be seen, but he will be integral to the Renegades line-up this year, joining James Pattinson and Kane Richardson as leaders of the pace attack.
"Playing in the Big Bash is something that I've always wanted to do," Topley says now.
"What I'm going to bring to the side is I swing the ball up front, I normally bowl in the first Powerplay and some death overs as well.
"I like to bowl in those pressure scenarios, I like to close out games and take wickets with the new ball.
Yeah, this is a decent delivery first up from Reece Topley Watch #Blast20 LIVE >>> https://t.co/0ApLCqDBQC pic.twitter.com/wlOsQm3AFl— Vitality Blast (@VitalityBlast) September 18, 2020
"It's quite an exciting role, there's a lot of action whenever you're called into the game, there's obviously a chance to take wickets when guys are coming hard at the front and going hard at the death.
"I really embrace that challenge."
The Renegades have two spots unfilled in their 18-player squad for BBL|11, with fan favourite Mohammad Nabi expected to return, while the club are also understood to have sights set on another international spinner.
Melbourne Renegades BBL|11 squad (so far): Cameron Boyce, Zak Evans, Aaron Finch (c), Jake Fraser-McGurk, Sam Harper, Marcus Harris, Mackenzie Harvey, Josh Lalor, Nic Maddinson, Shaun Marsh, James Pattinson, Mitch Perry, Jack Prestwidge, Kane Richardson, Will Sutherland, Reece Topley (ENG).