Ollie Robinson ready for Ashes takeoff with England after turbulent start
If, as expected, Ollie Robinson walks out at the Gabba on Wednesday it will be emotional, both for the cricket fan who attended the 2006‑07 tour at the age of 13 and the professional who feared his England career was over after one cap.
Robinson’s rise to prominence this year is such that England’s hopes of regaining the Ashes could well hinge on how he fares. This is not to place undue pressure on the 28-year-old but rather reflect his centrality to Joe Root’s plans. Besides, he does not appear to be a cricketer with a fragile temperament.
This was put to the test on his debut against New Zealand at Lord’s in June, when offensive tweets from his teenage past emerged on day one and a media storm erupted. Robinson not only held his own thereafter, but, after the short ban that divided public opinion, he returned to impressive effect against India, claiming 21 wickets that included Virat Kohli three times.
Not that he did not fear the worst at the time. “I didn’t think at one stage I was going to be playing for England again,” Robinson says as he awaits the first Test in Brisbane. “It’s been quite a rollercoaster over the last six to eight months and to be here and be with the team, it’s an emotional time for me.
“To get here and hopefully play the first Test is going to be huge for me, a massive achievement and something that I’ll never forget. Hopefully I’ll play and do well.”
Robinson says he continues to work on himself “as a person” and is committed to ensuring the England dressing room is a welcoming, inclusive environment.
His career is certainly one of self-improvement, having gone from freewheeling rookie batsman to metronomic fast-medium bowler who generates bounce from his 6ft 5in frame and sideways movement from a supple wrist, and tries to outthink opponents.
These skills will be challenged in Australia, no doubt, but while it is his first time here as an England player, it is not unfamiliar territory.
His father, Ian, whipped him out of school for an extended Christmas holiday during the 2006-07 Ashes and his memories of watching Andrew Flintoff’s side proved an inspiration, even if a 5-0 drubbing resulted.
“I think Freddie got [89 at Sydney] one day and I remember thinking he just took it to the Aussies and growing up that’s how I wanted to play my cricket,” he says. “It’s inspiring to watch that as a youngster and now hopefully try and emulate it.”
If that trip stirred the passions then spells in grade cricket with Sydney Tigers in 2012-13 and St George in 2017-18 helped developed the bowler during his winters.
It was with the latter where he first crossed paths with Josh Hazlewood – a player he unashamedly tries to emulate – and also Trent Copeland, the twice-capped right-armer.
Though Robinson’s numbers with St George did not leap off the page – a side injury made for a slow start – Copeland remembers seeing a potential international cricketer in the making who absorbed information “like a sponge”.
“I don’t think his consistency was finely tuned,” Copeland says. “But you could see the way he let the ball go out of the wrist.
“Some guys are born with it. The difference is the kiss off the wicket. Often guys when they talk about the best bowlers – Hazlewood is one – it feels like the ball comes up off the wicket and at them, rather than coming into the middle of the bat or skidding on.
“Ollie’s height is a big asset but one of his strengths is going to be that steep bounce and the wrist right behind the ball. When you aren’t outright pace, it’s about being methodical, using angles, the crease. Those things make him a very, very good bowler.”
Robinson’s third spell in Australia came last year when England Lions won an away “Test” against their equivalents for the first time and he took seven wickets with the pink Kookaburra ball.
This year he has noted more lacquer on its red equivalent and, with the La Niña weather system bringing the prospect of cloud cover and perhaps greener pitches, he is optimistic about harnessing assistance.
Operating in the low-to-mid 80s mph, this clearly would be welcome but Robinson has attributes that go beyond simply fishing for dynamite with the Dukes ball on green-tops. For one he is a meticulous planner who watches hours of footage, and is confident enough to publicly share plans for a quirky batsman such as Steve Smith.
“He plays a lot of balls from deep in his crease, his contact points are a lot deeper than other batters. So my lengths might have to be slightly different to him,” Robinson says. “If you start to starve him of his scoring areas, he seems to want to score. He’s not someone that will just sit there and block all day.
“Hopefully, he’ll make the mistake or if the ball is moving I can get him lbw or nick off. Out here it’s a bit harder with the ball not moving as much but I’ve looked at him and Marnus Labuschagne quite in depth and hopefully have a plan for both.”
This studied approach was evident against India, as was a confrontational side that may be required in Australia. “I don’t think me as a person could keep my head down if I tried. I’m definitely going to be trying to get under the skins and try to unsettle them.”
Time will tell if all these elements come together in the white heat of Ashes cricket but, after a turbulent start to his Test career, Robinson appears ready.