Built for speed
PUBLISHED: 12:25 06 January 2015 | UPDATED: 12:25 06 January 2015
Rising cricket star Reece Topley meets Matt Stott at Alton Water near Ipswich to talk about a new hobby . . . powerboating
The chipper instructor emerges from the clubhouse and strides down the wet, grassy slope towards us. He has two orange lifejackets – one for photographer, Lucy, the other for me.
“Are you coming?” he asks, unaware of my scepticism. Who knew getting ‘action shots’ meant boarding a powerboat and going for a spin across a large reservoir at 50mph. I must have missed the memo.
Lucy kits up and joins the party at the water’s edge. I decline, but look over and see Reece Topley, the 20-year-old professional cricketer from Ipswich, who is making strong waves in his quest to become a top bowler for England.
The left-arm swinger – such a bowler is considered gold dust in cricket – has risen through the ranks at Essex, his county cricket side, in a manner suggestive of a future star.
He made his first-team debut aged 17 in 2011 and has since taken 93 wickets in 25 first-class matches, following in the footsteps of his father and former Essex cricketer Don Topley.
Reece, an imposing skyscraper at 6ft 7ins tall, has also represented England multiple times at youth level. At the Under-19 World Cup in 2012, he finished the tournament, which featured 16 nations, as the leading wicket-taker, with 19 victims to his name. More recently, he was the youngest member of the England Lions squad to tour Australia in February last year.
But here he is at Alton Water Sports Centre in Stutton near Holbrook, just outside Ipswich, gaining a qualification in powerboat driving.
Why? Because, he says, it’s a fun and challenging activity that will provide a welcome release from the rigours of elite sport and a chance to bond with his team-mates during long overseas tours.
“I think it will be quite good to get the boys round and on the boat,” he enthuses. “We can just chill and have a few drinks on the water. It will be nice.”
His attitude is impressive, and ultimately persuasive. I change my mind, zip up my lifejacket and get in our designated powerboat, designed to help us capture Reece behind the wheel at close quarters.
“I’ve been on a few powerboats and always thought it was cool how the captain would have an understanding and good knowledge of the boat, the tide, the elements and everything else,” Reece explains.
“I’ve been surprised by how much I enjoy powerboating. It’s really fun and I’m looking forward to pursuing it.”
I inquired about his water sports background. He learnt how to sail during his student years at the Royal Hospital School at Holbrook, goes rowing with his family at Dedham, and in recent times has been surfing with established Essex batsman Mark Pettini while on cricket duty in countries including Australia, Spain and Portugal.
“Every year we go to watch Quiksilver Pro France in Hossegor (the world surfing championships) and give it a go ourselves. It is great fun being out there.
“That’s the reason why I’m doing this course, so when I’m in those countries, I can just get on a boat. It frees me up to be honest. It’s nice to get away from it all and take your mind off cricket.”
Reece is a little reserved by nature, but the reckless abandon of powerboating – described as Formula One on water – brings out his effervescent side.
Does he go faster than one of his monstrous cricket deliveries (his record is 85mph)?
“No,” he laughs. “You do go fast though – around 40-50mph.
“Driving the boat is brilliant. It’s a good buzz. It does feel a bit dangerous at times when you’re bouncing, but it is very thrilling. On choppy waters it would be pretty dangerous, but once you get good speed you are all right: you’re just gliding along and it’s a good feeling.” I ask if there are any parallels with cricket.
“No,” he replies. “There’s no adrenaline with cricket; it’s all skills based, whereas this, there are other elements and you’re not in total control, which is quite a nice feeling. There’s a different sort of control.” However, despite the many charms of powerboating, cricket will remain his nonpareil.
“I’m learning about tides, reading the charts for different places, getting a feel for the boat and hopefully that will lead on to other things.
“(But) nothing really compares to cricket in my eyes. Obviously one is my job and another is a hobby on the side, and I’d be happier if I was more successful at cricket than being in a boat.” I steer the end of the conversation towards his cricket ambitions.
“I would love to retire in an England shirt, but who knows,” he says. “It is a long way away.”
I put to him that no left-arm bowler has ever taken 100 wickets for England. He corrects me by stating it is 100 test wickets.
“I would love to be the first, definitely.”