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Having been humbled at Lord’s, few expected England to perform like they did in Leeds. Your outstanding players have to recognise those moments, and Jimmy Anderson duly did with stunning spell on the opening morning. The rest of the England side followed.
It is great that the fast bowling injury crisis that enveloped England earlier in the summer is easing a little, with Mark Wood and Chris Woakes returning to fitness, and Craig Overton putting in a superb showing in Leeds.
Because of this, there has been a bit of talk about Anderson – who really is only getting better at the age of 39 – resting, with future challenges in mind. I have long been against being cute with Anderson and Stuart Broad’s involvement. If they are available and in England’s best XI in those conditions, they should play, especially when such a vital series is so well poised. India would be delighted if he was absent.
India are likely also getting sick of the sight of Ollie Robinson, who has made a sensational start to life in Test cricket this summer.
Robinson has arrived at Test level with the skills to succeed, but also confidence. That partly comes from his superb first-class record as Sussex’s attack leader (he has taken 275 wickets at under 21 for them), but I also think it is an attitude that is innate. He is not afraid of anyone. He does not care for the batter’s reputation. Most of us come into Test cricket timid, thinking “let’s see how this goes”. Not Robinson.
That fits with the vague memories I have of Robinson when he was in the Kent academy, more than a decade ago. There are two things that stand out.
First is that he was a batsman. This should give all young players hope. Robinson has taken a roundabout route to the top. It’s not the end of the world if the path is not quite direct, or as expected. And it should be a shot across the bows to all coaches in age group cricket to be very careful about any judgement they make about players at such a young age. He is proving that you are not the same cricketer at 27 as you at 17, just as Broad did before him.
My second memory is that he did not seem to give a monkeys what anyone thought of him. Now we have learnt that Robinson became a troubled young man away from the game. But viewed in a purely cricketing context, I liked the attitude I saw. On the couple of occasions I came across him, he never pandered to coaches or fitness trainers (which particularly impressed me). I find that a lot more appealing than the youngster who cannot do enough for you. Generally I feel that is because they lack a bit of confidence and think pleasing people will get them ahead.
What makes Robinson so effective now? Well, he is no quicker than many bowlers around the country, but a little like Glenn McGrath and Josh Hazlewood – who have similarly high release points – he puts the ball in an extremely awkward place, exactly where batters don’t want it. Most bowlers try to hit the top of off, but these guys seem to get more out of the pitch, and more lateral movement.
And he asks a question almost every single ball. Facing some bowlers is like being on a car journey that you know really well. You get from home to the (in my case) golf club and don’t remember anything about it. Facing the best is like getting across London at rush hour, without a map or signs with cyclists cutting you up and van drivers giving you the middle finger. Batsmen will be getting lost and frustrated for a little while yet.