England have a man for the long haul in Ollie Robinson

Ollie Robinson exults after dismissing Rohit Sharma
August 28, 2021

A "real find" was Virat Kohli's description; "phenomenal" was Joe Root's word: whichever way you look at it, England have a man for the long haul in Ollie Robinson.

Robinson was named player of the match as England completed an innings-and-76-run victory in the third LV= Insurance Test at Leeds. He claimed 7 for 81 in the match, including 5 for 65 in the second innings. With James Anderson and Stuart Broad coming towards the end and Jofra Archer facing an uncertain future, in Test cricket at least, Robinson's emergence gives England great reassurance for the future.

Robinson took 4 for 25 in eight metronomic overs on the fourth and final morning. Running in from the Kirkstall Lane End, he quickly settled on a consistent length which threatens the stumps and both edges of the bat. Yes, he had a new ball with which to work. But the pitch was flat and the sun was hot. These were not easy wickets picked up on an English seamer.

It was interesting to hear Robinson credit the influence of Anderson after the second five-wicket haul of a career which is only four Tests old. For almost as impressive as the statistics with Robinson is his apparent ability to pick up new tricks. Here, in the lead-up to the game, he noticed Anderson was gripping the ball slightly differently to other bowlers. Reasoning that there was nobody better to learn from, he quickly picked Anderson's brains.

"I noticed Jimmy held his wobble grip slightly different to how I and a few others held it," Robinson said. "I spoke to him when we got to Headingley after the break and just tried to practice it in the nets. It went quite nicely. I tried it in the game and it worked quite well. It's something I need to practise a bit more, but learning off Jimmy is invaluable at this stage of my career and luckily it came off today."

This ability to pick-up skills from other bowlers is nothing new from Robinson. He grew up idolising Glenn McGrath and then played Grade cricket in Australia with Josh Hazlewood. Their influence can be seen both in his wonderfully smooth, repeatable action and his ability to thump out an excellent, consistent, probing length. Earlier in the series, he produced a knuckle ball - changing his grip even as he gathered to deliver - which also demonstrated his wide range of skills.

He says his stock ball is the one delivered with a wobble seam which he hopes will hold up and leave the right-hander. And it was just such a delivery which accounted for Kohli, whose habit of flirting a little outside off stump was punished when Robinson persuaded one to bounce and at least straighten.

But equally dangerous is the one which darts back into the batters. And while Robinson's bounce - even from a pretty full length, Hawkeye tends to show the ball bouncing over the stumps - and the sometimes prodigious nature of his inswing might render leg-before dismissals a little more rare than you would expect (Mohammed Shami was, at one stage, reprieved by DRS when it looked for all the world as if he had been trapped in front), the fact that he can move the ball in both directions creates confusion. That's why Cheteshwar Pujara left one which would have hit his off stump and Kohli fiddled with one he could have left. The fact that it's all delivered with the nagging accuracy of toothache just wears at the batters' concentration. It's a terrific package.

It was interesting that Kohli, while offering praise afterwards, also added a caveat. "He understand his skills really well," Kohli told the BBC. "He swings the ball both ways and he's very consistent; especially in these conditions. He is a real find for them."

No doubt there will be days, in Asia in particular, when that "these conditions" line proves true. But Robinson might enjoy South Africa, Australia and, depending on the surfaces, the Caribbean, too. He has played a fair amount of Grade cricket already and, while he is unlikely to gain the same amount of swing from a Kookaburra ball, he may well enjoy the extra bounce off the pitch. He'll still hit the seam; he'll still bowl an impeccable length. These are skills that should render him a useful addition to the attack in most conditions.

"My strength is consistency," Robinson said. "It's something I look at with the analyst and the bowling coach, Jon Lewis, every day after I bowl. I see how I've bowled and check my lines and lengths. If I can be as consistent as possible, not go for runs and build the pressure, then hopefully I'll get wickets with that.

"My stock ball is just to wobble the seam and try to get it to hold away from the right-hander. I'm learning a few things at the moment that I won't reveal, but I'm trying to improve myself all the time, really. Learning from Jimmy, speaking to Jon Lewis - trying to improve myself all the time to become the best I can be really."

The one doubt England had about Robinson was his ability to back up performances. But he has managed to bowl more overs than anyone else this series and generally retained both his consistency and pace.

"It's been phenomenal to watch him perform as he has," Root, his grateful captain, said. "He's had big influences on all the Tests he's played. We've known how skilful he is. It was a question of whether he'd be able to back it up in his third spell with the ball a little older. And he's shown huge skill in being able to do that time and time again with big workloads under his belt. He's shown what he is capable of doing and long may that continue."

Robinson said: "I was confident I could perform at this level. Over the last three or four years in county cricket, I've been up there with leading wicket-takers and getting good players or overseas players out often. So I knew that if I stepped up to Test cricket I could do the same and luckily I have been able to.

"It feels like a very special day. It's one of the great days in my cricket career: to get my first Test win and to take the vital wickets is really special. The noise when we got Kohli out was deafening. It was just an unbelievable experience and feeling to get that wicket.

"So, yes. I'm very happy. I've had to wait a while for my chance, but hopefully I've taken it now and it will keep me in the team for years to come."

There seems every chance of that.

Craig Overton had a decent game, too. With bat, ball and in the slips, he looked a sound addition. He may well struggle to retain his place if and when Archer, Broad and Woakes return. But his consistency and his obvious relish for the challenge render him a decent option at this level. He may well have moved ahead of Sam Curran in the pecking order now.

In the short-term, England remain hopeful that Woakes and Mark Wood may be available for the fourth Test, which starts on Thursday at The Kia Oval. Both have bowled in the last day or so - Woakes in The Blast and Wood in training - and will be monitored to see how they recover. The extra day off won't have done anyone involved in this game any harm, either.

But Jos Buttler looks less likely to feature. Root would neither confirm or deny, but Buttler may be absent on paternity leave for either or both of the next two Tests. With his enthusiasm to tour Australia in current circumstances also doubtful - quite understandably, it should be added - there is a possibility (just a possibility) he could have played his last Test. Jonny Bairstow is likely to replace him with the gloves at The Oval, if required, with Ollie Pope set to come into the middle-order. Dan Lawrence has been released to play County Championship cricket from Monday.

Such issues can wait until next week. For now, we can relish the prospect of an increasingly intriguing series which will remain 'live' right to the end. Every ball counts, you know.

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