Aloof Ollie Robinson let England down in crucial Test

Ollie Robinson - Uninterested Ollie Robinson let England down in crucial Test
For whatever reason, Ollie Robinson did not live up to his billing in Ranchi - Getty Images/Philip Brown

Ollie Robinson is at a crossroads in a curious career and, by going unused throughout England’s fourth innings push for victory, he completed a baffling return to Test cricket eight months after limping out of the Ashes.

Robinson went wicketless, and dropped a vital catch, but in England’s first innings, he maturely supported Joe Root with a Test-best 58. This was a surprise, because Robinson’s batting talent has been unfulfilled in Test cricket and is remembered chiefly for backing away at the end of a sorry 2021/22 Ashes series.

Robinson’s fifty was vital, and gave England a foothold in the game. But that was as good as it got. With his primary skill, relentless bowling with just enough nip and nibble, things went awry.

Sharing the new ball with Jimmy Anderson, his first delivery floated down at around 76mph. A loosener after a long time out? Hardly, because he barely touched 80 thereafter, and even dropped into the sixties. His third ball was a no-ball, the first of six in the match, taking him to a tally of 77 in 20 Tests (he has 76 wickets). The two issues are surely linked, with Robinson pushing the front line so hard because he has to eke out every inch-per-hour possible.

Robinson’s lack of pace cost him chances, too. Twice he found the most precious edge in this series, that of Yashasvi Jaiswal, but on both occasions it died before reaching the catches behind the wicket. They were already standing considerably closer than they were for Anderson, 11 years older but a good deal quicker.

Ollie Robinson - Uninterested Ollie Robinson let England down in crucial Test
Robinson bowled six no balls and lacked match fitness - Getty Images/Phillip Brown

Last June, the great Australian attack-dog Matthew Hayden memorably described Robinson as “bowling 124kph nude nuts”. It felt harsh. A game earlier, at Edgbaston, he had taken five for 98, and had 71 Test wickets at 21.2. Here, it looked like Hayden’s comment was ageing well. That Test average – now 22.9 – remains outstanding, but is heading north.

On-field demeanor was aloof

Robinson became an emblem of England’s third day collapse. Trusted by Ben Stokes to keep things tight until the new ball, Robinson bowled three more no-balls. That gave him an economy of 4.2, when no other England bowler went at more than 2.7.

That was not his most grievous crime, though. Grazing at midwicket he let a firm stroke from the outstanding Dhruv Jurel fly through his hands. That helped India whittle 41 more off England’s precious lead, piling pressure on the top order, which told. Dropping a catch happens, but Robinson cannot say he was not warned: one ball before, a chance had just evaded him in exactly the same position, so he knew he was in the game. From there, he was hidden in the field.

Robinson’s on-field demeanour is languid and aloof. Plenty of great sportspeople have looked that way and cared deeply, and Robinson may well be one of them. But combining that look with lapses of concentration can start to smell of complacency. It is hard to imagine, for instance, Stuart Broad napping in the field with the game in the balance. He was simply too competitive for that.

Not asked to bowl in second innings

On this tour, which has seen him be the only player travelling with his partner, he has looked a man apart from the group as he attempts to expand his professional portfolio into the world of social media influencing and podcasting (his new partner’s domain). At times, insiders have wondered whether his eye has always been on the ball.

Come the fourth innings, Stokes overlooked Robinson. Stokes is so resourceful that even in extreme spinning conditions like these he would not have ignored Robinson had he provided any threat first time round. And he surely would not have ignored Broad.

Ollie Robinson - Uninterested Ollie Robinson let England down in crucial Test
Robinson's England career appears to be at a crossroads - Getty Images/Philip Brown

Stokes was full of praise for Robinson’s skill and attitude ahead of this game, with memories of his brilliant performances on unresponsive wickets in Pakistan in 2022 fresh. Word was that he was physically fitter, which may be true, but he did not look match-hardened having not played since July. He has a reputation as a bowler who needs overs to find rhythm. Should England have found him a game for someone, perhaps the Lions?

For whatever reason, Robinson did not live up to his billing, and at a bad moment for him, and the team. With Broad gone, and Anderson 41, he should be becoming England’s home-and-away attack leader. But his fitness record is patchy, and the awarding of only a one-year contract – when younger, uncapped bowlers like Gus Atkinson and Brydon Carse were offered longer terms – added to a sense that England have doubts about a player they have shown loyalty to when other regimes might have cut him loose. It is hard to believe those doubts have dampened here.

Robinson has great natural gifts and a fine record. Only he can ensure it remains that way.