Batting for the whizzkids
Published 04/06/2014 | 02:30
The old adage 'if you're good enough, you're old enough' is often used to justify the promotion of young talent to the big time, but there can be few better examples than the Topping brothers at Waringstown.
Morgan, the Ulster Country Under-15 captain, took a wicket with his first ball in an Under-10 match and has not looked back, but it is younger brother Sam who is setting records that may never be beaten.
Two years ago, he played in the Under-11 All-Ireland final as a seven-year old – and bowled! And at the age of nine he has already played adult cricket for Waringstown IV.
Last Saturday, he was at The Lawn for the Villagers' first round game in the Ulster Cup but he admitted he would rather be playing – as most boys of his age would.
Although he was used as a bowler in that Under-11 Irish Cup final in 2012 – when his Waringstown team-mate Jack Carson scored a staggering 121 – Sam prefers to have a bat but, unsurprisingly, hadn't too much to say for himself when asked about his cricketing ambitions.
"My favourite player is Alistair Cook (the England captain) and Lee Nelson (the captain) at Waringstown. I hope to be captain one day," he says.
His father, Lyness, who played senior cricket with neighbouring Donacloney at the end of the 1980s, is much more forthcoming about his youngest protégé.
"He has been at Waringstown since he could walk and was always running about when Morgan was playing.
"He was in and out of the Under-11 team in that first year but when the older boys weren't eligible in the final, Jimmy Carson, who was looking after the team, brought in Sam.
"Both Sam and Michael Waite (10) have played adult cricket for the Fourths this season and Sam was also at the NCU's winter nets and should get selected for the Under-11s with Michael and Josh Froggat.
"He plays at Donacloney Primary – well, practices anyway. A left hand bat, he has taken up wicket-keeping and with five league games for Waringstown, if they do well in the cup they could have up to 10 or 11 games."
Sam has been the stand-out player among his peers this season, with 55 not out in the Quoil (U11) Cup victory over Civil Service North, and although the Stormont side gained revenge in the first league match, Sam was retired after reaching 32.
Morgan (pictured), though, is setting the standard in the Topping family. Just turned 15, he has already played in two All-Ireland finals, has two Graham Cup (U15) winners medals, played in the Ireland Under-13 side and was captain of the NCU U13s and was this week named in the Under-15 team for the inter-provincial series at the end of the month.
A right-hand batsman and off spin bowler, he has already taken three wickets in a game for the Seconds and is a regular on the Fourths for whom he opens the bowling and was named their Player of the Year last season.
Ask him whether he prefers batting or bowling, however, and he snaps back instantly. "Both. I'm an all-rounder."
His favourite bowler is Graeme Swann and, like most cricket watchers, his choice of batsman is Sachin Tendulkar. Closer to home, "I like watching James Hall and Lee Nelson bat and Gary Kidd and Kyle McCallan bowl."
On the Ireland stage, Morgan has no hesitation in picking Paul Stirling as his favourite player but he admits he doesn't bat like him.
"I'm not a big-hitter," he says. "I prefer knocking the ball around," a fact backed up when he describes his most important innings.
"It was probably last year's Graham Cup final when we needed someone to go in and pick up the singles and rotate the strike. We were 30 for three (requiring 86), but had plenty of overs left. I only got 15 but we went on to win the cup, so it was a vital innings. I also took a couple of wickets in the game."
With that cool head and quick thinking, Morgan has already proved he is captaincy material and admits he enjoys it, especially when the team is under pressure.
"When someone is trying to hit out, it is a challenge to decide where to put the fielders, that would be the hardest part of captaincy, but it's a good feeling to know that someone has picked you and trusts you to be captain. It's a big honour," he adds.
Morgan, who has already been involved in the 1st XI at Waringstown – he has been 12th man for the last two weeks in the Challenge Cup game at Derriaghy and for the Ulster Cup tie against Fox Lodge – admits his ambition is to become a professional cricketer and is excited that Ireland have applied for Test match status.
"I'd love to play for Ireland and hope they get Test cricket because I'll be the right age and that is my ambition, to get a full-time contract and play as a professional."
Depending if and when Ireland reach the top level, Topping could certainly be in that first team and don't rule out a proud dad, who has already played in the same team as his sons, watching both playing in the same Ireland team.