Ollie Robinson has been told by England’s coaches that he must improve his fitness if he is to flourish as a Test bowler.
Robinson, England’s leading wicket-taker in this Ashes series, took 2-15 in an opening spell of seven overs in the fifth Test in Hobart, but managed only one further over before being taken out of the attack with a back spasm and lower back stiffness. England will assess Robinson overnight to determine whether, or how much, he might be able to bowl on day two.
“[Robinson’s fitness] is something he’s definitely looking at and we’re working on it with him,” said England bowling coach Jon Lewis. “It’s something he will need if he’s going to perform consistently over a long period of time at this level, he’ll need to be a fitter bowler. That’s 100 per cent. We’ve had those conversations with him and been pretty frank with him and now it’s up to him to go and do the work.
“He’s got a record of playing a lot of games in county cricket. But international cricket is a higher intensity and you play all year round. So, he’s got to get used to understanding what it takes to be a full-time year-round international cricketer.
“So far he’s been okay. But we play a lot of cricket and training and playing at the same time isn’t always straightforward. That’s something [Robinson’s] learning. He’s going to have to learn to look after himself probably better than he does at the moment.”
Robinson has had a stellar start to his Test career, taking 37 wickets at an average of just 21, including the likes of Kane Williamson, Virat Kohli, David Warner and – today – Steve Smith. However, his fitness has been some cause for concern for some time, and led England to rest him in Sydney after he rapidly declined in pace over the course of the Boxing Day Test.
His withdrawal on day one in Hobart caused England a headache, with Joe Root forced into bowling 10 overs of off-spin on a pitch for which the England captain deliberately did not pick a frontline spinner.
Robinson’s absence was drawn into sharp focus by the fact that England’s first-change seamers, in Mark Wood and Chris Woakes, have struggled to make an impact in support of Robinson and Stuart Broad.
Wood and Woakes managed just two wickets for 129 runs combined, going at run rates of more than six and four runs respectively. Furthermore, England are keenly feeling the absence of Ben Stokes’ bowling, visibly injured following a side strain suffered in the Sydney Test and therefore playing only as a specialist batsman.
“In these series we play now, with the times we’re in, everything is really squashed together,” explained Lewis. “So there’s not a great deal of rest and recuperation between games. So that’s something that he’s going to have to deal with.
“Obviously [losing Robinson] has a big impact. You lose one of the seamers after he bowls seven overs and it has a big impact on the rest of the day. He was bowling fantastically well. He gets a lot of bounce. That has caused Australia trouble.”
England chief Tom Harrison vows to put red ball cricket first in ‘reset’ of game
By Nick Hoult
England’s Ashes defeat will lead to a “reset” of English cricket’s priorities as part of a review of all aspects of the domestic game.
Tom Harrison, the England & Wales Cricket Board’s chief executive, promised that pitches, schedules and the Dukes ball will all be part of a wide ranging review looking into how England can become a force in Test cricket again.
It will be separate to the specific review of England’s performance in Australia currently being compiled by Ashley Giles, the team director, and Mo Babat, the performance director. Their report will be submitted to the ECB’s performance cricket committee, chaired by Sir Andrew Strauss, in “very early February” and will determine the fate of the coach, Chris Silverwood, and other members of the England set up.
“It feels like this is a moment to reset the importance of red-ball cricket in our domestic schedule, for us to recalibrate how we play first-class cricket in the UK,” said Harrison, speaking in Hobart ahead of the fifth Ashes Test. “It’s a brilliant opportunity for us to come together as a game and really sort that once and for all. There’s been plenty of debate around this, and sometimes the ability to effect change on something as complicated as our schedule is when you have a performance-related issue, and we have one now. This is something where the PGG, the professional game group, will come together and work out how we want to move forward to work out how both the conditions in which we play first-class cricket in our country and the schedule for first-class cricket reflect the ambition that we have to be the best in the world in this format.”
Harrison again reiterated there is too much cricket in the schedule but it is hard to see how that can be cut down with the competing demands of broadcasters, counties, and members. The ECB has also added the Hundred to the high summer schedule, further limiting room for manoeuvre, and the expansion of the IPL will have a ripple effect across world cricket.
“Everything has to be on the table. (Fewer fixtures) domestically, that’s certainly a debate we need to have,” said Harrison. “Internationally, when we get out of the immediate aftermath of the wake of Covid, we’ve got to look at how we manage fixture workloads. With an additional few weeks of IPL every year and a World Cup every year the windows for bilateral cricket and what we need to do to become the best in the world are becoming more challenging. I don’t think we’ve lived through a year of a 72-match IPL and a World Cup in the same year and 2022 will provide that and it’ll be interesting how we manage workloads through that. Remember the schedule is put together by the game. It is not the ECB imposing the schedule. It is done together.
“But there is an ability to have this debate and get this right. There is a debate about whether we play more red ball cricket through the summer. Let’s find a way to be able to do that. These are the questions we need to ask. The pitches we play on, the ball we use. We are trying to replicate conditions in Test cricket as much as possible. We do it really well in the white ball game. We are currently not doing the right thing with respect to red ball cricket. We have seen that play out over the last 12 months or so.”
Harrison admitted the ECB board of directors needs freshening up with individuals who have more international cricket experience as part of a governance review in the wake of the Azeem Rafiq scandal. The board remains without a permanent chairman after the removal of Ian Watmore last year.
“In terms of the directors on the board. I think there’s a strong case for having more cricket knowledge on there and I think it’s recognised by the board,” said Harrison. “That is something we need to look at as part of this governance review that we’re about to undertake.”
Harrison threw his support behind Joe Root, who is expected to continue as Test captain. “I think Joe’s been a fantastic leader through this very difficult time. I’ve had lots of conversations with him and I for one hope that Joe continues to be our captain for the foreseeable future,” he said.
Harrison said he “welcomes the scrutiny” from the Government after MPs warned the ECB could be put in special measures if it does not tackle the racism scandal that rocked the game last year.
A report by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee singled out “deep-seated” racism in cricket.
“It’s obviously been a difficult few months for us, the allegations and various stories it’s been very painful. We want the government to hold us to account and when we are able to demonstrate that we can tackle this, do it meaningfully, perhaps we will be less of the sport under the spotlight and more the exemplar in terms of how we deal with really complicated and difficult issues in our sport.”