You could not accuse the ECB of wasting any time in responding to the emergence of Ollie Robinson’s reprehensible social media activity.
A little over 30 minutes after walking through the Long Room after a very encouraging first day as a Test cricketer and learning that things were not quite as rosy as he might have thought, Robinson, his eyes a little watery, was reading a statement of regret — first on television, then radio, then to the written press.
Anti-corruption regulation mean players have no access to their phones during play, and England’s management had rightly decided to shield him from his online storm until stumps. He had not even had time to make his Twitter account private by the time he was apologising for his mistakes.
A few minutes later, Tom Harrison, the ECB’s chief executive, had issued a stinging statement, promising an investigation.
Robinson’s county, Sussex, also put out a statement, as did Kent. Robinson is from Kent and was in their academy, but they were not talking about that; their statement concerned his namesake, their wicketkeeper-batsman Ollie Robinson (who, weirdly, was also born on December 1), who was receiving online pelters. It was a chaotic hour to conclude what had been a sleepy opening day of the summer on the field.
The ECB had no choice but to be robust in their response. For them, the timing could barely have been worse, on a number of counts.
Robinson and his team-mates had lined up on the boundary’s edge just a few hours earlier in a ‘Moment of Unity’, standing against seven forms of discrimination — a couple of which Robinson had emphatically ticked off in his tweets.
The display was all part of a wider attempt to make cricket a more inclusive game. Strides are being made in this department, but Robinson’s tweets show that work is absolutely necessary. So do other issues bubbling away in the background, most notably Azeem Rafiq’s allegations about his time with Yorkshire, which have a way to run yet. It is worth noting that Robinson won his place in the XI ahead of Craig Overton, whose own racism storm is not going away.
Next month, the ECB launch their new tournament, the Hundred. One of the express intentions of the tournament is to open the game up to those who do not see it as theirs right now.
Sure, it is a failure of vetting — by Robinson, his management and his employers — that he made it to his Test debut with these tweets in the public domain. Yes, it is remarkable that a man who has been inside the England bubble for more than a year, and a successful professional with Sussex for 15 years, has had these views just lying around. It is a mistake that seems unlikely to be made again.
But simply deleting old, offensive posts before they become public is merely a sticking plaster. The answer is not removing offensive posts before they become public; it is not being racist or sexist. We need our cricketers — who are not isolated members of society, they are representative of our young people — to understand that holding or airing such views is not acceptable. Robinson, at 27, may or may not know that; Robinson, at 18, clearly did not. The next lot of 18-year-olds need to be different.
The shape of the investigation into Robinson is not yet clear, but he could miss matches. More helpful still would be a form of “cricketing community service” that would help drum home the education he will receive. We will learn more when his Test debut concludes.
“Last night was pretty tough for him, and the whole team, to get that news,” Mark Wood told the BBC. “He’s going to try to concentrate on the cricket today, get his mind firmly fixed on what is an important morning for us and trying to get us back into the game. If his head is in that space he can do the business again, like he did yesterday.”
Business as usual, then. Robinson and Wood combined on the second morning to wrestle England back into the Test, sharing four wickets for six runs in a parsimonious spell. It was a reminder that this Robinson’s debut has a way to run yet.