Relentless Ollie Robinson proves there's life after being cancelled

Ollie Robinson sends off Australian batsman David Warner after dismissing him for 94 runs - DAVE HUNT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Ollie Robinson sends off Australian batsman David Warner after dismissing him for 94 runs - DAVE HUNT/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Fame is proving a capricious mistress for Ollie Robinson. In a little over six months, he has marked his Test debut by apologising for the bigoted tweets he sent as a teenager, and toasted his Ashes baptism with two wickets in two balls to draw some vestiges of pride from England’s Brisbane shellacking. He only turned 28 last week, but already his story stands as an object lesson in how the consequences of public shaming need not be terminal.

In the midst of Robinson’s midsummer disgrace, former England opener Michael Carberry argued that he should never represent his country again. Fast-forward to a giddy December afternoon at the Gabba, and the young seamer found himself the folk hero for some well-watered Barmies, repurposing their tribute to James Anderson with chants of “Oh Ollie, Ollie” as he lined up his hat-trick delivery to Alex Carey. Having been the subject of a gratuitous show trial, tarred as irredeemably racist after the excavation of feckless messages from his youth, Robinson has shown that there is life beyond being cancelled.

He is a pugnacious type, having already had the temerity to mock the Australians’ sledging. “The Aussie chat is pretty horrendous, if I’m honest,” Robinson said on the eve of this Test. “I’m definitely going to be trying to get under their skins.” He matched the rhetoric with immediate results, forcing David Warner into a looping miscue on 94 before dispatching Cameron Green for a golden duck.

When set alongside the express pace of Mark Wood, who was extending the speed gun to its limit at 93mph, Robinson could appear almost pedestrian, criticised by Shane Warne for not releasing the handbrake. But what he lacked in hustle he compensated for with remorseless accuracy and discipline.

Robinson’s intent was evident from his very first ball, which nipped beautifully off the seam to beat the bat of Marcus Harris. It was a pattern he would sustain throughout, tirelessly probing the outside edge. The only question hung over his stamina. He looked a husk after his hours of toil under the merciless Queensland sun, forced from the field during the final session with cramps and returning with heavy strapping. Test cricket is the least forgiving crucible for the under-prepared, and by the end England’s players were puce with exhaustion, gently cooking in the subtropical heat.

Ben Stokes and Dawid Malan, in particular, were struggling with their conditioning. But at least Robinson brought the few precious breakthroughs, picking off both Harris and Warner before inviting the 6ft 6in Green to leave a ball that rattled his off-stump. Some rookies can be cowed by the stresses of a first tour of Australia, but Robinson adapted superbly. His duel with Warner was a compelling study in the application of pressure, with the opening batsman saved only by Rory Burns’ dropped catch and Haseeb Hameed’s missed chance of a run-out. Little wonder that he later admitted to feeling as if he could dismiss Warner every over.

Steve Smith, a scrupulous student of bowling talent, had identified the danger from Robinson beforehand. “He hits a nice line and length,” he said. “He seems like he is always at you, testing your defence out.” It helped that Robinson had already witnessed Ashes drama up close, having taken a week off school as a 13-year-old to watch three of five Tests in England’s 2006-07 whitewash. Then came the seven wickets that he took in a victory over Australia A in March 2020, highlighting his readiness for the most draining tour of all.

Robinson reflects that his experiences in Australia have taught him the virtue of patience and creativity. His was a different approach to that of the sidelined Stuart Broad, as he continued to bowl over the wicket, pushing the ball across to left-handers. He has certainly served his apprenticeship in this country, having also served two stints in grade cricket for Sydney and St George. It was during these years that he leant on the wisdom of Josh Hazlewood and Trent Copeland, desperate to refine his understanding of the vagaries of Australian bowling conditions.

Ollie Robinson celebrates - Chris Hyde/Getty Images
Ollie Robinson celebrates - Chris Hyde/Getty Images

In every sense, Robinson looked at the Gabba like a man hardened for battle. He displayed the right demeanour, the right temperament, the right instincts, even if he could ultimately do little to halt the Australian ascendancy, as Head flayed Jack Leach to all corners en route to the third fastest Ashes century in history. Exhausted as he was by his efforts, Robinson could derive profound satisfaction from the fact that he was here at all.

At one stage, he had no idea of whether he would be playing for England again, damaged as he was by the furore over his appalling tweets. Simply returning to the fold had been, he acknowledged, “an emotional time for me.” While this return of three for 48 from 18 overs was hardly a career highlight, it was, in the circumstances, a priceless consolation. For in Brisbane, he was fighting with all his soul for his Test future. He could look back on this day, despite England’s grisly predicament, as a quest fulfilled.