The left-arm seamer was dealt a sickening blow when he damaged ligaments in his left ankle after stepping on a boundary sponge at the Gabba during a fielding drill ahead of England’s final warm-up match against Pakistan. He was soon on a flight back from Australia and watched from afar as England became the first men’s white-ball team to hold both 50-over and 20-over World Cups simultaneously.
“You could say I have a bit of PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] about getting on the plane again because it was pretty emotional coming back from the last one injured,” said Topley. “But injuries happen in sport. You can only do so much to prevent them. I don’t really think about it too much, but hopefully, they stay away.”
There was further heartbreak at the start of the year for Topley. Having returned fully fit, a maiden stint in the IPL for Royal Challengers Bangalore was cut short after bowling just two overs against Mumbai Indians on debut when a heavy fall in the outfield resulted in a dislocated right shoulder.
Topley’s return to action after surgery came at the start of August in the Hundred for Northern Superchargers, finishing as the tournament’s second-highest wicket-taker with 13, resulting in selection for England’s provisional World Cup squad. That faith from Jos Buttler and Matthew Mott was rewarded on Sunday with 3 for 37 in the second ODI against New Zealand to help square the series.
“Obviously, for anyone to come back from seven months out of 12 injured is tricky. When I came back from my ankle injury, I was getting back into it and then it was like having the rug pulled from underneath me when I came home from India. It’s all part of that process again, and hopefully it’s another box ticked, but it’s still a long way to go to be performing how I’d like to.
“As you get older, the injuries do get a bit harder to come back from – just the nature of just being years older. It’s not like you won’t ever come back from it, it’s just always a bit trickier.”
“Hopefully, the bad days just sort of become less and less. I definitely wouldn’t say I’m out of the jungle in terms of my ankle and my shoulder, but it’s a case of doing the right things, and hopefully, there’s more performances like Sunday.”
The outing at the Ageas Bowl was encouraging after an indifferent none for 47 from seven overs in the first ODI, which New Zealand won by eight wickets. After England set a total 227 in a rain-reduced 34-over affair, Topley was tight for the first five overs with the new ball (conceding just 19) before returning from the 21st over to take three in eight deliveries. His gutting of the middle order with the dismissals of Tom Latham, Glenn Phillips and Rachin Ravindra triggered a terminal collapse, with the last seven Kiwi batters falling for the addition of just 36 as the hosts triumphed by 78.
While these were his first ODI dismissals in over a year after going wicketless at Cardiff and in two matches in South Africa before the IPL, Topley was as much encouraged by underlining his capabilities beyond the new ball as the return to form.
“I like to think I take wickets in all stages, but with the new ball the other day [first ODI], I wasn’t great. It’s tricky. Obviously for seven months of this year I’ve been out injured, so it’s nice to be finding my feet again, hopefully just at the right time for India.
“My record in the format is pretty good [36 wickets at 26.83 across 24 caps]. I like to think that I can contribute whenever needed. It was nice to get that performance. Last game, I was pretty nervous about getting back in the ODI squad and it was my first ODI since South Africa as well.
“It’s tricky playing and getting yourself back into it mentally and physically after some injuries. The game moves on and people move on, and you obviously don’t get the chance to because you’re sidelined and can’t play cricket. It’s nice to sort of get yourself back up to speed and it’s all part of the process. It’s not the end of it now: it’s just another good day.”
That being said, Topley is allowing himself to look further ahead. At 29, this will be his third global tournament for England, after featuring in the 2016 World T20 and again in 2021, when he was an injury replacement for Tymal Mills. Having overcome a spate of back issues which saw him suffer five stress fractures in six years, the last of which came in 2018, he has sights set on two more tournaments for his country, starting with 2024’s T20 assignment in the Caribbean and USA.
“It would be the third World Cup I’ve been involved in,” he said of the upcoming trip to India. “I’d like to be involved in next summer’s as well. I’ve set myself a goal to be involved in five World Cups and that’d be something pretty special as a player.”
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo