You can ignore Ollie Robinson – England probably won’t “go harder” in the second Test

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We still don’t feel like we know Ollie Robinson all that well, but one thing we’ve concluded is that he is now pretty well established as England’s talker-of-bollocks in chief.

Robinson somehow made the headlines last week for a tetchy and sweary outburst at Usman Khawaja after dismissing him for 141 basically-match-winning runs.

It seemed to us to be fairly run-of-the-mill, heat-of-the-moment fast bowler fare. Presumably somewhat more considered was Robinson’s subsequent Wisden column, in which he bemoaned victorious Australia for their supposed unwillingness, “to go toe-to-toe with us”.

After repeating a whole series of “for your ears only” tyre-inflation comments from Brendon McCullum, Robinson then closed out his column by very uncomfortably promising: “One thing I can guarantee. You’re going to see us come harder and harder.”

We’re not sure what to make of that guarantee, given he had opted for the conditional just a couple of paragraphs earlier, suggesting that, “you could see us come even harder at Lord’s.”

Maybe he talked himself into it. Ollie Robinson can certainly talk himself into a lot of things.

Will England really “go harder”?

Against a backdrop of Test cricket through the ages, England’s win over South Africa at Old Trafford last year was unremarkable. But in the smaller sample of matches played in the Stokes-McCullum era, it is actually in some ways the most remarkable.

That game didn’t deliver the gut-rotting tension of the first Ashes Test and it didn’t serve up a jaw-dropping run-chase like those Jonny Bairstow began to perfect last summer. It is therefore remarkable in the same way that The Straight Story is a remarkable David Lynch film – because it was characterised by such a conspicuous lack of weirdness.

“We’re trying to rewrite how Test cricket is being played in England,” Ben Stokes had said before that South Africa series began, only for his team to succumb to an innings defeat in the first Test. That didn’t feel like much of a rewrite. It felt like a very familiar repeat.

In the second Test, Stokes’ men attempted to keep the unambiguous mindset but seemingly allowed themselves to bend to circumstance a little more. The end result was that they showed themselves to be quite capable of refraining from constant hell-for-leather attack in favour of pragmatism.

After bowling South Africa out for 151, Zak Crawley came out and made 38 off 101 balls. When he was out, England were 147-5. Rather than madly dash to a 50-run lead – which is what people assume they’d try and do now – Bens Stokes and Foakes sedately and unshowily worked their way to centuries.

Foakes’ 206-ball hundred was characteristically steady, but the captain also took it pretty easy having spent the rest of summer dealing in leading-by-example slog cameos. After 98 balls, he was on 41 and he hadn’t accelerated enormously by the time he was out for 103 off 163 balls. An England declaration ensued – but only once they were 264 ahead. There were dramatic moments, but all in all, intrigue outweighed excitement.

The point is that for all the talk about England’s recent approach to Test cricket, they are actually perfectly capable of flexing in the non-American sense.

So why are they so unwilling to do so?

Wrong question

The real question is why do England sound so unwilling to temper their approach. It’s probably because after two defeats in their last three Tests, Stokes and McCullum feel like the players are under enough pressure to alter their method anyway.

Maybe the leadership duo are trying to counter those forces – not because they disagree, but simply because they don’t want the players to stray too far from central principles that have honestly completely transformed the side from when they inherited it.

Ollie Robinson is a key part of England’s team, but he is also a tool of the system. As such, bombastic ‘we’re going to attack even more’ style comments like his probably betray not so much a genuine goal as Stokes’ and McCullum’s ongoing messaging efforts.

Attacking cricket isn’t a cure-all, but erring on the side of positivity has unquestionably worked for England over the last year or so. They’ve shown signs they can moderate their aggression, but they won’t want to do so to the extent they reacquaint themselves with their greatest enemy.


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  1. “You can ignore Ollie Robinson”

    …unless you’re Australian apparently.

  2. Firstly I think that before “Bazball” can evolve too much there will need to be some significant defeats. England’s white ball teams had to face the setbacks of Carlos Braithwaite and the 2017 Champions Trophy semi final loss to Pakistan before they really started to dominate and show a bit more nuance than try and smash everything.

    Every series since McCullum’s first has seen people suggest that “Bazball” will be found out and that it will have to be abandoned to return to a more orthodox system. Only by losing and sticking to your guns can you show people that you really are committed to changing established norms. Once you have proven beyond all doubt that you won’t abandon your principles you can begin to relax them here and there.

    Secondly, given the reactions Ollie Robinson is getting out of basically all retired Aussie test cricketers I can’t be the only one hoping England pick the other Ollie Robinson at some point this series. Imagine Hayden and Michael Clarke trying to work out why the teamsheet had two O Robinsons.

  3. No spinner (Root doesn’t quite count). I was thinking of making an ‘Always Pick A Spinner’ protest sign to take to Headingley, but it might seem a bit unfair to focus on that given all the other cricket related issues highlighted this week.

    1. …also they might pick a spinner for that Test and then the sign wouldn’t make sense…

      1. Maybe not the best timing for a protest at an Ashes test then.

        Although the ‘just stop, Oli’ headlines write themselves

  4. It would be interesting to see how this England team evolve after a few failures. Clearly they’ve created a new way to look at tests, and for that they should be rightly congratulated. But would some failures be treated as collateral damage or chinks in the Bazball armour? Would they dust themselves down and go at it again or settle into a more comfortable approach midway between methodical and mayhem? A few lost matches might also cost them in the World Test Championship circuit. These are interesting times.

  5. Ok, who had ‘Jonny Bairstow carries protester off the field’ in the Ashes headline sweepstake?

    At least he caught something this time, etc and so on.

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