England have recalled Ollie Robinson to their squad for the first two Tests of their forthcoming series against South Africa.
Robinson has not played international cricket since the Ashes ended in January due to fitness issues, mostly related to his back, but impressed with nine wickets in Sussex’s final County Championship game against Nottinghamshire last week and will finally get a chance catching the attention of the newcomers Head coach Brendon McCullum at Lord’s ahead of the first Test on 17 August.
He replaces the injured Jamie Overton in the 14-man squad, otherwise unchanged from the New Zealand and India Tests, with opener Zak Crawley falling behind despite his low scores.
Why England didn’t give up on Ollie Robinson
After a stellar start to his Test career in 2021, this should have been the year that Ollie Robinson established himself as England’s attacking leader. Instead, it’s been a wasted year: he’s bowled just 19 overs in Test cricket so far in 2022.
But Robinson’s recall shows that for all their desperation over their winter fitness – which culminated in bowling coach Jon Lewis publicly questioning his professionalism in January – England are adamant He has the ability to be successful at international level. At 28, Robinson still has time to enjoy a long Test career – and perhaps fill the void when James Anderson and Stuart Broad finally leave the stage.
There are three main reasons for Robinson’s recall. First and foremost is his testing ability, which he has demonstrated even amid concerns about his fitness, leading to his being withdrawn at Hobart as unfit to bowl. In nine Tests, Robinson has 39 wickets at just 21.3 apiece, excelled against New Zealand and India last summer and – when he was bowling fit – won 11 wickets at 25.5 Down Under.
When able to bowl at full tempo, Robinson has shown wonderful control of line and distance. No Test pace bowler since 2006, when ball tracking began, finds good line and distance more often than Robinson. He also generates amazing bounce and palpable momentum and seam: a cocktail of gifts that – if only his body would allow – should allow Robinson to thrive in all fields.
Robinson is not only very good, but also different. While he lacks the extreme pace that England would love – even when fresh, he works at just a tad over 80mph – he offers another unusual threat: his size, which he maximizes by snapping when the ball is released stays upright. Robinson’s average release point, 2.2 meters, is the third highest of any test pace bowler today, behind only Jason Holder and Kyle Jamieson; it is even 15 cm longer than Stuart Broad. Robinson’s wide release point not only delivers the ball from a very high altitude, but also creates an unusual angle; combined with the lateral movement he generates makes it very difficult for him to walk. And so an attack with Robinson in it is not only better; it is also more varied.
The third reason for Robinson’s recall is more prosaic overall: the lack of other options given the multitude of injuries plaguing the rest of England’s attack. Jamie Overton might have retained his place in the squad had he not also succumbed to injury; England’s three fastest bowlers, Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone, are all out of the summer, as is Saqib Mahmood. The result is that Robinson’s return to the Test squad has been accelerated: it has come after just one top-flight game for Sussex since his last return from injury.
Very real questions remain. Although he impressed on his championship return for Sussex – nine for 104 in the game against Nottinghamshire – observers still reported he lost pace as the game progressed.
Even in his fastest form, Robinson is anything but expressive. But England’s concern isn’t with its top speed; it’s whether he can keep it up. At times during the Ashes tour, Robinson’s speed had dropped below 75 mph.
England have told Robinson that if he is to enjoy the Test career his talents deserve, he must be able to sustain his magic for a day and a Test. There are hopeful signs that his diet and fitness will no longer affect his ability to perform on the pitch.
Robinson’s first chance to show his body is now better equipped for the demands of Test cricket will come at next week’s England Lions game against South Africa, when Brendon McCullum is likely to be present. While Robinson is unlikely to feature in England’s side for the opening Test on August 17, he could well have a chance in one of the final two Tests of the summer. It would be a chance to show that he has come out stronger from the troubles of 2022.