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Ollie Robinson: The Debut

Ben Jones looks at an extremely promising on-field start for Robinson.

It is hard to imagine how Ollie Robinson’s debut could have gone worse. His first week in Test cricket has brought about the uncovering of racist messages on Twitter, behaviour deeply inappropriate, unpleasant and sinister in isolation, but even more so in the context of English cricket’s drive to increase inclusivity, tolerance, and diversity. While Robinson was not an ECB ambassador when he sent those messages, he is now, and thus his past behaviour deserves scrutiny. He should not play the second Test if the ECB are intent on sending a strong message regarding anti-racism, and neither should Craig Overton. In the current climate of the British public booing the taking of the knee at international football matches, the way that the ECB positions itself in the landscape of anti-discrimination is hugely important.

If you would like to read more about this, and the issues which surround it, I would direct you to Vithushan Ehantharajah’s piece on The Independent website. 

From hereon, we’re going to talk about Ollie Robinson the cricketer. 

From that angle, it’s hard to imagine how Ollie Robinson’s debut could have gone better.

He has been immense, bringing the best of county cricket (seam, swing) into the Test arena, with some less typical domestic virtues (height, vigorous competitive edge) along with some more typical sins (a lack of visibility and attention letting plenty of transgressions slip through the net). He has dismissed the world’s best Test batsman (by ranking at least), and has threatened to do so more than once.

53% of Robinson’s deliveries in this Test have fallen on a good line and length, the highest percentage of any bowler on either side. His control of line and length is quite comfortably the best on show, in a group showcasing plenty of legendary seam bowling talent. Those domestic skills honed down on the south-coast have not fallen away under the pressure of Test cricket, but have rather been shown in a clearer light.

His Expected Average in this Test, 27.7, is the best of anyone in the game. For the uninitiated, that means that the quality of his bowling alone is, by that measure, the best in the Test. That high release – the third highest in the world of active players, behind Jason Holder and Kyle Jamieson – plays havoc with batsmen’s perception of length, and takes a bowler outside of usual experience. 

42 runs with the bat is not the sort of thing which Test traditionalists worry about – just take wickets and leave runs to the batsmen, they cry – but it’s hugely influential in thinking, and rightly so. Robinson’s ability with the bat is not to be ignored, and neither is it’s scarcity in Silverwood’s England – had he made another eight runs today he would have become just the second tailender to make a half-century under Silverwood’s England regime. The batting depth of Trevor Bayliss’ time in charge has disappeared, and Robinson offers a clear remedy for that. 

If England’s likely make-up throughout the summer is going to be Broad, Anderson, A Quick and a Spinner, then it’s hard to see how Robinson fits in. He is perhaps as good a red ball bowler as Broad for now, but he is not going to dislodge that hierarchy. But ultimately, if England are intent on looking forward to the Ashes and using the summer as preparation, then Robinson should play a significant part in the Indian series. Craig Overton may have Put On A Yard by all accounts, but people said the same thing about Robinson and his speed is as registered in 2018. The outstanding candidate for a seamer to bat No.8 in Australia, is Robinson; partly due to his lack of reliance of swing movement, partly due to his superior batting ability when compared to others in the squad, and partly due to what may well represent a tail-wind off the back of a successful summer. Momentum doesn’t exist, but it’s hard to deny its effects on the confidence of players.

England are focusing on the Ashes. Nothing they have said indicates otherwise, and it’s a disrespectful approach to a summer of world class visitors in a climate of travel concern and risk. That is wrong. But if they are going to live with that disrespect, then Robinson’s performance is a blessing, and a tick in the box – and a pencilled in name for the Gabba.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

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