Robinson outshone Stuart Broad and James Anderson on debut
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It is clear that Ollie Robinson, who has been banned from international cricket, had to be punished for his past racist and sexist comments. It is also clear, however, that he’s an extremely accomplished cricketer.
And it might even be the case that one of those things is not completely independent of the other. A moment to explain; for the avoidance of doubt, it is not a prerequisite to sporting greatness to have indulged in deeply discriminatory behaviour in your past. This is also not a eulogy to Robinson’s "character" in weathering a media storm on Test debut, nor that we should be bound to "admire" him for being able to get on with the job that he is paid to do.
However, on cricketing metrics alone, Robinson has had an outstanding Test debut. Over the last decade, as various seamers have stepped onto the international stage for their audition to partner James Anderson and Stuart Broad, the gulf has been easily apparent. There are England’s two all-time leading wicket-takers and then, perhaps understandably, there are the rest. Only Robinson didn’t make it look that way. In fact, if there was a gap, it went the other way.
As Broad strived and strained every sinew to pick up a wicket after a dry run exceeding 80 overs all-in-all, Robinson bounded in from height, extracting pace, bounce and venom. He was a menace. He found more swing than any England bowler, more wickets too and an economy lower than his peers across both innings. He resisted the debutant’s temptation to pitch in with too many short balls as some sort of proof that only a barrage of bumpers can demonstrate one’s fast-bowling credentials, instead bowling 51% of deliveries on a good length. Again, better than any of his compatriots.
Despite both Anderson and Broad’s repeated denials that they have any designs on retirement in the near future, in short: tempos fugit. They will not be around forever. Robinson has shown himself a capable replacement. Certainly to Broad, a man of similar build, style and tactical acumen. Shrewd, too.
Robinson, on debut, has looked more composed, more like he belongs at this level, more ready than perhaps any other seamer making their international bow since those two prodigies he might seek to replace. He can bat too. His 42 in the first innings to partner Burns was integral to England having any chance in this match at all.
Robinson had an outstanding Test debut
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Which brings us back to the original point: why is it that Robinson, a good county record yes but nothing extraordinary for a player in line for a call-up, has slotted so seamlessly into England’s bowling attack?
Perhaps there is something in his past. Preceding this Test, Robinson made no secret of having been, by his own admission, “thoughtless and irresponsible” in his early professional days. Bad enough for Yorkshire, a county currently embroiled in its own racism scandal, to have sacked him.
But Robinson has also evidently done much to remedy many of those shortcomings since, enough at least to turn his on-field career around. By extension one can surely assume, or at the very least hope, that it is not just Robinson’s on-field performance that has benefitted, but his off-field conduct too. These cannot have been mutually exclusive progressions.
Robinson, at 27, is not only a reasonably mature debutant based on age alone, but on life experience too. He has grown up, a lot. In part because he has had too – not only to sustain the performances demanded of a professional athlete but to exist as an acceptable member of society too. Perhaps it is therefore no wonder that Robinson has stepped onto the international stage less as a rabbit-in-headlights but more as an accomplished bowler, at ease with his own game and an understanding of the rigours he will be subject to.
Again, Robinson must be punished. His pathway to international cricket is no template for any budding athlete and any return, pending the outcome of an investigation, will not be an easy one. But, assuming that Robinson’s past views and behaviour are long-since ones that he no longer holds even before this week’s Twitter revelations, there is also the likelihood that he is a person who has, over the years, grown greatly in character, in humility and who has learned a great deal from past mistakes. England need mature people as players; we can only hope that Robinson has become that man.