Robbinson was at his sparkling best on Day 4
At the start of the home summer, when Ollie Robinson was handed his Test cap, countless ardent English cricket supporters rejoiced. Not just because it seemed to reward Robinson’s exploits in the domestic circuit, but also because the pacer, especially with James Anderson and Stuart Broad not getting any younger, represented the next crop of English fast bowlers.
However, there were some people who looked at his inclusion with skepticism. They even termed it as a stop-gap solution, considering a few of England’s first-choice bowlers, namely Chris Woakes, Sam Curran and probably Moeen Ali, were serving quarantine after the suspension of the IPL.
Almost instantly, though, Robinson put those question marks to rest. He announced his arrival in style against New Zealand and while that game has more fondly been remembered for the lack of intent England displayed in the fourth innings, nothing could be taken away from what Robinson had accomplished.
The pacer had put the most solid batting unit on the planet under the cosh and had done so quite effortlessly. Fascinatingly, one aspect rather stood out – something that happened before the game (not the infamous tweets).
Prior to the 1st Test, Robinson, in one of his interviews, was asked how he wanted to dismiss Kane Williamson – largely acclaimed as one of the two best batters in Test cricket. Immediately, he quipped that he wanted to seam a couple of deliveries away from him before decking a ball back into Williamson and trapping him LBW.
Like some sort of otherworldly clairvoyant, Robinson used that very ploy in the second innings at Lord’s. Though he didn’t bowl any out-swingers in the over that he dismissed Williamson, he had set him up a couple of overs ago, meaning that Williamson had begun shuffling across his stumps to cover the movement.
Hence, when Robinson jagged a delivery back into the batter on the 2nd ball of the 25th over, Williamson was all at sea. He got into an awkward tangle and played around the ball as it thudded into his pads. The umpire too raised his finger and had it not been for technology or more specifically Ultra Edge, Williamson would’ve been on his way.
Williamson was perfectly set up by Robinson
Just a ball later, Robinson repeated the process and accounted for Williamson, with the DRS, rather ironically, coming to the former’s aid. That scalp, apart from denting New Zealand’s psyche, also deflated their batting unit considerably, meaning that England restricted the visitors’ run-scoring just enough to delay their declaration.
Ollie Robinson was outstanding at Leeds on Day 4
Fast forward a couple of months and Robinson found himself in another almighty tussle – this time against Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. Just a day earlier, Pujara had buckled down and had dug deep into his resilient reserves, carving a patient knock of 91*. Kohli, meanwhile, hadn’t played and missed or edged a single delivery off the pacers throughout his vigil on Day 3. Fair to say then that they had handled Robinson’s threat relatively well.
However, with the new ball waiting for Robinson, some retained hope that the pacer would be able to turn things around. And, boy, didn’t he do so!
For a large part on Day 3, Pujara had left deliveries extremely well. He rarely played outside his eye-line and had been severe on anything close to his body. Even on Day 3, Robinson tried to set the in-swinging trap by dragging Pujara across the crease but with the ball having lost its sheen and the pitch not really providing assistance, it translated into run-scoring opportunities for the Indians.
However, with the new ball, the plan worked a charm. Robinson got Pujara across his stumps so much that he shouldered arms to a delivery that was darted into him. The ball rapped him just outside off stump while not playing a shot, meaning that Robinson, despite the umpire initially giving it not out, carved open the game for England. Courtesy of that dismissal, Robinson also provided proof that Williamson’s dismissal on his debut Test wasn’t a fluke.
A few overs later, in the 90th over, Robinson looked a lot more experimental when bowling to Kohli. He tried to bowl the in-swinger and was duly punished by the Indian skipper for a brace of boundaries into the leg-side.
With Kohli being lulled into a false sense of security, Robinson sprung a different kind of trap – this time, making Kohli play at a delivery in the fifth stump channel. Apart from the ball leaving the batter late, it was also a reaction expected of a batter who had seen deliveries angled into him.
His wicket-taking prowess continued as he caused Rishabh Pant all sorts of problems. Again, he got the ball to nip away just a touch, meaning that Pant, who has a tendency to waft at deliveries, perished to Robinson for the fourth time this summer. While it may be a little early to term Pant as Robinson’s “bunny”, it might be hard to ignore that assessment for long.
Thus, by dismissing two of India’s batting mainstays and their best match-winner – all via different avenues, Robinson had illustrated that there are several strings to his bow.
And, of course, that he deserves to be in this side, irrespective of whether the likes of Broad, Curran, and Woakes are fit or not. He averages 17.65 across four Tests, having garnered 23 wickets – a tally that is anything but shabby.
Robinson is at the peak of his powers
Having said that, there are still plenty of caveats attached to Robinson. Though he seems tailor-made for English conditions, his bowling might be put to the sword overseas, where swing and seam might be a lot harder to generate.
Additionally, he needs to ensure that he doesn’t tread the Woakes path, which basically relates to excellent home numbers but a rather dubious record abroad.
If one were to stretch it further, this could end up shaping Robinson’s career, for his efforts overseas could be the difference between him being just another English fast bowler and one capable of leaving a substantial imprint on English cricket folklore.
To say that Robinson has had it easy so far would be blowing things out of proportion because he hasn’t. Before making his Test bow, he had played more than 60 First-Class matches and had picked up in excess of 275 wickets.
Robinson had also seen old tweets resurface – tweets that questioned the kind of character he is and more damningly, if he was suitable enough to don the English whites on a regular basis.
While that is in no way an indication that those tweets shouldn’t have been treated the way it were, it just highlights how Robinson must have felt at that time. At the time, he was between a rock and a hard place – something that he most certainly wouldn’t have envisioned after a remarkable outing on debut.
Now, though, he seems a more reformed individual and one who wants to actively make up for lost time. And, of course, show the world that he can make the ball talk too.