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Ollie Robinson: 'I'm trying to change the narrative that I don't care'

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Published in Cricket
Tuesday, 02 April 2024 10:09
Ollie Robinson has conceded that he faces a "make-or-break summer" when it comes to proving himself as a bowler England can build their Test attack around, following a difficult tour of India on which he made just one injury-affected appearance that raised questions about his future despite an average of 22.92 in the format.
Robinson, who turned 30 in December, has only played once at any level since suffering a back spasm during the Headingley Test against Australia in July. Despite working hard on his fitness over the first half of the winter, his return to the side for the fourth Test in India at Ranchi did not go to plan. He sustained an unrelated back injury while making a half-century in England's first innings, and that limited his ability to bowl at full tilt. He sent down just 13 overs out of 103.2 in India's reply - as well as dropping a crucial catch - and was then unused as India chased down a target of 192 to seal the series.
After a turbulent start to his international career, Robinson had seemingly been cast as the natural successor to James Anderson and Stuart Broad (even though the former is yet to indicate any willingness to retire). But an underwhelming Ashes, in which he made more headlines for his sledging than his bowling, and further fitness issues in India mean he is now at "a little bit" of a crossroads in his career.

"I'm 30 now and I still feel young, but 30 in sport's actually not that young anymore," Robinson said at Sussex's pre-season media day. "So I feel like it's the last summer where maybe I get any slack, if you like. Going forward I have to perform, I have to be injury-free and prove to people that I am the right person for the job, because there's a lot of good seamers in the country now, a lot of younger seamers are coming through. So it's probably a make-or-break summer for me.

"I don't mind that [having a point to prove]. I think it gives me something to drive forward to, something to engage my mind going forward. It's not that I'm not driven normally but when you have such a big point to prove, you have to really focus on it, otherwise it can slip away."

Rob Key, England's managing director of men's cricket, recently told the Telegraph that Robinson "is one of the best bowlers in the world at 83mph, but not at 75mph". Robinson, while suggesting that he would not be obsessed by the speedgun, admitted that he wanted to demonstrate he has the required durability to Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, England's Test captain and head coach.

"For me, it's not necessarily thinking about bowling fast. It's that energy off the pitch that you see when I'm bowling well. Because of that, the speeds are up. Speed isn't something I will be focusing on purely, it's getting that snap back, that rhythm back, and hopefully the speeds will come from it. Bowling hard for as long as possible, all game, is something that Stokesy and Baz have asked me to do as well. That is what I will be aiming to do."

Away from playing matters, Robinson has also endured added media scrutiny over the last year - initially after taking it upon himself to "get stuck into the opposition" during the Ashes, provoking a typically full-throated response in Australian quarters, and then following the break-up of his relationship with his fiancée, which led to his personal life becoming fodder for the newspapers.

Robinson, who said that he had been undergoing therapy to deal with some of those personal issues, admitted that he had made himself a target by not backing up his bravado with on-field performances.

"I think when I come out and say so many things in the media and run my mouth a bit, if you like, then you have to expect backlash when you don't show up. I'm well aware that that can happen. Like I said, you say things all the time and if they don't come off, you look silly, and I think that's one of those occasions where the media are probably allowed to have my badge. I didn't perform to the level I wanted to and it's disappointing for me, but all I can do now is try and get it right."

Robinson is expected to play up to five of Sussex's seven games in the opening block of County Championship fixtures, and could then make his first T20 outing since 2021 in the Blast, with England not back in Test action until July with the arrival of West Indies. He said that his goal for the summer was "firstly to play some cricket" after the lack of game-time left him feeling "a bit stagnant" in India.

"Four or five games for Sussex would be nice. Hopefully I can get through those and hit the English summer flying," he said. "For me this year, it's about playing as much cricket as possible, getting back to a happy place and enjoying cricket again.

"It's got to the point now where I feel I've got a bit stagnant. The body wasn't moving as quickly as I'd have liked during the game in India. You have to play cricket if you want to play at the highest level. You can't just dip in and out, it's one of those sports. When you are on the field you realise how intense the game actually is. When you are off the field watching you think 'ah, that doesn't look too bad'. In India that probably caught up with me."

He added that, despite a difficult 12 months, he would be going into the season hoping to "change the narrative" around his commitment to playing for England.

"In my head and my heart I'm giving everything I've got. I'm following the programme England give me all the time and I'm doing everything I'm asked to do. Maybe I'm too laid-back at times, too horizontal, but I wouldn't be where I am today if I wasn't like that. I'm trying as hard as I can to give everything I've got, I'm passionate about playing for England and it's the only thing I really care about. I am trying to change the narrative that it looks like sometimes I don't care."

Alan Gardner is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick

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