That match when Devon Conway and Ollie Robinson made their Test debuts

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4 minute read

We’re pretty sure we know how this Test will be remembered.

The England team for the first Test averaged less than 273, so it didn’t seem unreasonable that they gave up trying to chase that on the final day against a really very good and balanced bowling attack.

Others disagree, but it seemed a highly sensible draw to us. Rain ruined the game, not England.

It will go down as a paradoxically memorable ‘forgettable draw’ though. Not just for the return of fans after a year of Covid emptiness, but for two striking debuts. Perhaps James Bracey will make his duck memorable with hindsight, but in the immediate aftermath, the performances of Devon Conway and Ollie Robinson feel a little higher profile.

Devon Conway

New Zealand debuts are always weird because fans elsewhere in the world have grown reluctant to pay too much attention. It’s not disregard for the country as a cricketing nation that gives rise to this, so much as the fact that they generally only play two-Test series.

The odds of a top order New Zealand batsman becoming a significant presence for a cricket supporter from another country are slim. They might be rubbish. They might be no more than okay. They might be really good but pull a hammy at the start of a tour of your country and miss the entire series. They might be part of a New Zealand team so dominant (or rain-affected) that they only actually get to bat twice.

All of this is compounded by a level of media interest that is informed by exactly these things.

The upshot is that even after 57 Tests, someone like Tom Latham is still not exactly a household name, even in the kinds of households that talk about cricket a fair bit.

Devon Conway neatly bypassed all this with a sneaky ruse. “If I score 200 in my very first knock when pretty much all of my team-mates fail then people will have to notice me,” he reasoned.

So this is what he did.

When they describe the innings in years to come, they’ll probably say that he reached 200 with a six because that’s a quick and easy thing to say.

But the shot to reach 100 was the striking one. You get one angling down leg when you’re on 98 and it’s crying out for a nudge or a nurdle. Conway figured he’d spin-ping it in the air to the square leg boundary while standing on one leg.

Ollie Robinson

The man who bowled that delivery to Conway was England’s Ollie Robinson who would then bowl him in the second innings. Robinson took 7-101 in the match and New Zealand’s declaration batting did not contribute to that enormously.

It was a performance good enough to encourage selectors to flirt with switching from pencil to pen for writing his name in the future. Except he is now suspended.

This is a complicated one and some elements feel a bit messy and disingenuous.

England and New Zealand had joined in a rather hollow, choreographed ‘moment of unity’ ahead of day one, during which the England team stood wearing T-shirts denouncing discrimination in a bid to express that ‘cricket is a game for everyone’. (Look, it’s a nice and correct sentiment and we know that you’re trying, but the 100% white Test team who were wearing those T-shirts did kinda imply that you could maybe, possibly be doing a tiny bit more in a practical sense.)

Contrasting with this markedly, close of play found Robinson explaining how he was, “embarrassed by the racist and sexist tweets that I posted over eight years ago, which have today become public.”

The tweets are really not nice, but to our eyes they’re not shot-through with hatred and vitriol. They read more like the dumb ‘humour’ of an 18-year-old who’s becoming an adult while communicating almost exclusively with 18-year-olds with equally minimal exposure to the wider world.

We’re pretty confident Robinson will have grown to become rather less of a tit and may even feel that he should not be fully accountable for the excruciating actions of the 18-year-old version of himself. You are responsible though. It’s up to everyone else whether to qualify the opprobrium.

The ECB has not yet qualified it much at all – but it’s worth thinking about why. They sent him out to say sorry in his first England TV interview – which is a tough thing to have to do – and he’s now been indefinitely suspended pending a disciplinary investigation.

This seems a bit grandiose and coming-down-hard-on-this-kind-of-thing at first glance, but this is largely just a reflection of how we view suspensions. He’s not banned. It’s not punishment. They’re trying to work out whether that’s necessary.

Because the ECB definitely need to confirm that Robinson is definitely not racist and sexist. It’s one thing to have historic tweets brought up, but if you slap him on the wrist and then during the next Test everyone finds out that he spends his spare time raiding hotels angrily looking for asylum seekers, they’d cop a fair bit of criticism.

But at the same time we have this weird situation where Robinson’s captain is talking about giving him, “an opportunity to learn and understand he has to do better,” when he’s almost 50% older and has almost certainly already done that.

Proportionality is probably something that will only really materialise once we’re out of the murky waters of doubt.

Anyway. As we said. A memorable debut.

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  1. As a kiwi, am I heartened by the prospect of a bowling attack without Robinson’s incision next match? Or am I panicking because we should have won this one gone, and England alternate between the best team in the world and a horror show?

    1. We were neither in this game. Perhaps we’re about to settle into a prolonged run of predictable mediocrity?

  2. To be fair to the ECB, anyone can find out what he said within 5 minutes on Google (or King Cricket). Faced with the decision between letting him play the next match or dropping him, given the moment of unity and the importance of anti-racism campaigning, there was only really one decision they could make.

    Most likely he’ll miss the next Test, the investigation will recommend he should miss a Test, the ECB will say he’s already done that and then things will move on.

    The questions should really be directed at Yorkshire, given he was a player there at that point and also a teammate of Azeem Rafiq, who over the last summer accused Yorkshire as a county of failing him and other minority-ethnic players.

    1. The question is for the ECB we know now that you must audit, monitor and even manage all social media of anyone in the public eye. These are now basics much better known than in 2013, the question is why exactly are they not doing them?

  3. I know you don’t do requests, KC, but it would be nice if we could have some quality analysis about what is happening in the County Championship going into the final round.

    1. Will have to see how things go. We are spread a little thin this week putting things in a van and then taking them out again.

      1. I forget to add in my request that if you don’t have enough time to do it then that is absolutely fine.

  4. The Devon Conway achievement really is a rare and magnificent thing. Only six people have scored a century on test debut at Lord’s ever. Only two achieved it through the whole of the 20th century, although three have now achieved it since.

    I’m slightly torn about the Ollie Robinson business. His tweets were disgusting and I’m afraid I think less of him for ever having been such a nob that he could post stuff like that.

    When I was that age (18-and-a-half), I was writing thoughtfully and I’m sure I knew what I was doing when I committed words to the public domain…such as these, scribed when I was exactly that age:

    But in truth the world has changed and tweeting might seem, to an 18-year-old twerp, like bants with your mates over a few drinks rather than writing. I’m not 100% sure that I could defend everything I ever said in such circumstances at that age.

    As for some of my sketches and songs from student revue in my young adulthood and professional ones from NewsRevue when I was older than Ollie is now; while not overtly offensive or laddish, many would be utterly unacceptable now.

    I agree with the points above – that the ECB should undertake due diligence on players ahead of high-profile selection. Skeletons should be fessed up to and apologised for ahead of exposure. To some extent Ollie Robinson is being punished for the ECB’s shortcomings in that regard.

    Given that he wasn’t even a contracted player to a county when he made those tweets and has apologised for them wholeheartedly, a one match suspension while the matter is being investigated should be enough time and more than enough punishment for Robinson, assuming that there isn’t a fact pattern of further/ongoing misdemeanours of that kind.

    The lad is no saint – I have seen him play a fair few times and his on-field demeanour has not always been great. I’m hoping that his progress as a player and his redemption under the watchful eye of Dizzie Gillespie has modified/improved those aspects of his behaviour too.

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