County Championship is unrelenting - one bad season and you are left on your own to the wolves but for Ollie Robinson, the Championship was the last ray of hope, having been ousted by Yorkshire in 2014. He had one List A appearance with Hampshire but when he landed in Sussex, he had a big lifeline.
Ollie Robinson is no longer a struggling cricketer and has already made his steady mark on the domestic circuit; He should play for England, yelled the others. Robinson was no more just another flash in the pan, he was destined to stay and he wrote his own story, all of it in South East England, in a land of an independent medieval kingdom.
After seven rounds of the 2021 County Championship, the lanky Sussex pacer cut through several batting units, picking up 29 wickets, at an average of 14.72. Several including David Lloyd saw him as an X-factor in the England setup and the others saw him as a potential replacement for James Anderson. The comparison with English legend Angus Fraser was also on the table. But what really made him successful was his rather disciplined style of bowling.
In the last four seasons of the County, there has never been a better seamer, at least to have caught the attention of the English selectors. Robinson isn’t a trained dancer but none are better than him in the County. At 80mph, he doesn’t just get the ball to do the talking, he gets it to do the dancing, the salsa and the ballroom.
While Darren Stevens was the story of grit, professionalism and defiance, Robinson’s story is rather simple - redemption, resilience and reward, the three R’s that define him. Having moved to Sussex at the end of 2014, at the age of 20, there was a bit of stutter - his career had just been marred at Yorkshire and Hampshire and he had to start all over again.
And when Sussex did sign him, it was a rather short-term deal, the ones that were to cover the injury crisis in the club. The headline on The Argus read, “Sussex sign former Yorkshire seamer,” and the snippet read, “Sussex, have signed former Yorkshire seamer Ollie Robinson to ease a growing injury crisis.” He had only got there, after impressing the selectors in the second XI against Middlesex, where he went on to score a century and pick five wickets.
His debut for the first XI was the next day, a big clash against Durham, on April 26, a bowling attack led by Graham Onions and Chris Rushworth. While he was this tall lad who bowled with a searing pace and an impeccable length, hitting the stumps more often than not, his first appearance in front of the away crowd at the Chester-le-Street, with the bat.
At 145/7, he joined the wicketkeeper Ben Brown in a rather interesting partnership. The management surely would have heard that he had scored a century just in the week, so expecting Robinson to score another wouldn’t be a wild dream. But for a man playing his first County game it was a rather tough task. He exited with 110 against his name, putting on a 164-run partnership with Matthew Hobden for the tenth wicket. While it all came in a loss for Sussex, he ended with four wickets in the clash to go with his 114 runs with the bat.
Since then, Sussex, Robinson and the wickets have gone hand-in-hand. In six years for the Sharks, the lanky pacer has struck 279 times, averaging a mere 21.04 in the country, on pitches that he has made his own. His impact was quite immediate and impressive - striking 46 times in his first full season at 24.71, just behind Steven Magoffin as the county’s second-highest wicket-taker.
But as it turns out, even that could not help them prevent the sink. The ship went down in 2016, his form suffered a dip - where he picked only 19 wickets @47.89 to leave an erring mark in the dressing room. Sussex naturally didn’t go back to the first division, still whaling themselves in the lower league, watching the old boys in Kent go up top. In 2017, he could only feature in four games, picking up 19 wickets yet again but at an impressive rate of 21.68. He was almost on the verge of making the headlines but an err was always accompanied by it.
At the end of the 2017 season, it was almost like a second-birth for Robinson, with his former coach at Yorkshire, Jason Gillespie, joining the Sussex team as the new head coach, a period that coincided with the county’s rise in English cricket. Several cricketers, including Ishant Sharma, flew to England, only to train under the guidance of Gillespie, to learn the art of hitting the stumps.
While his batting is adventurous and often experimentative, his bowling is rather simple - the plain ol’ Vanilla of hit the stump, challenge the batsmen to play. In the last three years though, the race to top charts has been won convincingly by him, he has even made the rules his own. His mantra has been not too complicated either - eat, sleep, pick wickets, repeat. How does he get to do it every day, by making the batsmen play and making them doubt their own decisions!
In the last four seasons, starting from the 2018 County Championship, Robinson has struck 180 times, at an impeccable average of 15.58, with an average of under 20 in all four seasons. Every time there is a clip of him picking wickets that circulates on the internet, it feels repetitive, the wickets, the line and length. It was no secret that he idolized Glenn McGrath, channelising himself as the Australian, with his line and length, which forcibly let the batsmen take their own batting lives.
“I’ve always looked at Glenn McGrath. Over the last five years of his career, he didn’t bowl express pace but he just didn’t miss. Wherever you are in the world, no matter what pace you are, if you don’t miss the top of off and can move it both ways a little bit, you’re going to be successful, I think,” Robinson told the Cricketer.
On the other hand, the coach,who worked with him first in Yorkshire, Gillespie didn’t mince words either. He reckoned that the pacer was at the peak of his powers.
“Ollie is at the peak of his powers right now,” Gillespie told the Guardian.
“I have no doubt if given the opportunity, he wouldn’t let anyone down. He’s big, tall [6ft 5in] and hits the pitch hard, gets movement off the seam and can swing the ball, too. He has a lot of street smarts, too. He operates around 80mph on the speed-gun but when his beans are going, can push this higher. With his height and his discipline, he’s quick enough,” he added.
Ollie Robinson with the ball in first-class cricket since the beginning of 2017:— Daniel (@Daniel11015334) May 18, 2021
Do you think he should make the England XI for the first England-New Zealand Test? pic.twitter.com/O8kmyCi22z
But for a cricketer with his disciplined bowling and lifestyle, the start wasn’t quite on the same page of discipline. In 2014, after impressing one and all in the Yorkshire second XI outfit, Robinson was destined for bigger things, under Gillespie, in what could have been one of the best partnerships in the English county. As fate would have it, he bottled the chance that he had and threw the litter out of the garbage.
“As a support staff, it was a massively difficult decision,” explained White Rose coach Jason Gillespie, who handed the player a first-team debut in 40-over cricket last summer after trialling in the second team, reported Yorkshire Press.
“When you see a very skilful young cricketer like that continually display unprofessional behaviour, at what point do you continue to tolerate that when you have the whole squad being very professional? It’s not your right to play for Yorkshire, it’s a privilege.
“When a player consistently displays behaviour that isn’t professional, there has to be a point in time when you say ‘look, this isn’t really working, you’re obviously not that bothered about playing for the club’. That point came, and it was tough.”
Looking back at things, Robinson insisted that the sack was a tricky one but perhaps the best thing that had happened to him, where he was figuratively slapped pretty hard on his face. Literally, his career was on the cusp of breaking down and here we are, seven years later.
“It was a tricky one but I think getting sacked from Yorkshire was almost the best thing for me in the end,” Robinson admitted to The Cricketer.
“Having that thrown at me – one of the biggest counties just getting rid of you does sharpen you up and slap you in the face pretty hard. It’s actually stood me in good stead.”
Yorkshire had sacked him from the setup in 2014, and that led to the bowler finding himself, redefining himself and his work ethics. In the span of the next seven years, he not just overturned his own career but also is in line to make a debut for the Three Lions next week, in the clash against New Zealand.