Warwickshire v Middlesex, Edgbaston, 1st day May 8, 2013

Robson plunders depleted Warwickshire


Middlesex 280 for 3 (Robson 136*) v Warwickshire

It is most unlikely that Sir Alex Ferguson has relinquished his position at Manchester United with a view to pursuing a career as a county cricketer. But, if he had done, he might be encouraged by what he saw at Edgbaston yesterday: on the strength of this, a 71-year-old Scotsman could yet take the new ball for the County Champions.

Such is the paucity of options at Warwickshire at present that anyone with a pulse and bladder control will be considered if they have another injury. And they will compromise on those qualities if necessary.

Quite what Ferguson would have made of his beloved Manchester United being devastated by call-ups to a B international during the Premier League season is anyone's guess. It seems safe to assume that his reaction would not have been resigned and phlegmatic.

Yet Warwickshire were obliged to go into this important Championship match - a match which pits the second-placed team in the table against last year's champions - without so many first-choice players that the integrity of the event has been compromised.

While no-one can do much about the raft of injuries Warwickshire have suffered, the decision to take three players away on Lions duty does seem punitive. To exacerbate the situation by allowing Steven Finn to play for Middlesex is simply rubbing salt in the wound. Middlesex, it should be noted, were also without Toby Roland-Jones (on Lions duty) and James Harris (injured).

Few would dispute the value of the Lions programme. Players who have graduated from county to international cricket have spoken in glowing terms of the assistance the Lions scheme gave them in making the step-up in quality.

Even fewer would dispute that Finn, who admits he "needed a bit more bowling," should be involved in this game if it helps him go into the Test series against New Zealand in good form. The success of the England team is vital to the funding of county and recreational cricket and, within reason, everything that can be done to that end should be encouraged.

But does scheduling Lions games in the middle of the Championship season really help? Or does it create as many problems as it solves? By creating another tier between domestic and international cricket, the Lions team is equally creating a greater divide between the two levels.

Had the likes of Chris Wright and Chris Woakes been involved in this match, the Middlesex opener, Sam Robson, would surely have faced a more searching examination of his skills and, as a consequence, would have been better prepared for his possible future elevation to Test cricket. By weakening the Championship, the foundations of the England team, the ECB are actually creating a problem which the Lions then have to solve.

There is a strong argument to suggest that Lions games should be limited to the off-season. Besides, quite what England will learn about Woakes from another Lions game - he has played 28 times for the Lions and 14 times for the full England side - remains unclear.

Such was Warwickshire's predicament before this game that serious consideration was given to selecting Neil Carter, who retired from county cricket at the end of last season (he continues to represent Scotland) and is currently in Birmingham staying with his old friend Jonathan Trott.

Among the three Warwickshire first team players absent on England Lions duty are first-choice bowlers Chris Wright and Chris Woakes (opening batsman, Varun Chopra is the other player with the Lions). But Warwickshire are also missing their other new ball bowler Keith Barker to injury, while allrounder Rikki Clarke is recovering from injury and was able to bowl only four overs at a reduced pace.

Potential replacements such as Oliver Hannon-Dalby, Chris Metters and Paul Best are also injured, as is their other opening batsman, Ian Westwood. But the spectacle of Jonathan Trott coming on to bowl the 15th over with his gentle medium-pace said it all: this Warwickshire side bears no comparison to the one that won the Championship title last season. The rain that fell shortly after tea came as merciful relief to Warwickshire.

"We're down to the bare bones," Warwickshire's director of cricket, Dougie Brown, said. "If we had one more injury, I'm not too sure what we would do."

In the light of such issues, Robson's second century in successive Championship innings - his second in five days - does need to be put into context. He is, without doubt, a high-class player who has every chance of going on to play Test cricket. He has the technique, talent and temperament to flourish against good new-ball attacks and a love of batting that is the hallmark of some of the very best players. He drives, off front and back foot and on both sides of the wicket, beautifully, and leaves unusually well.

The regularity with which he bats for whole days is testament to his desire and his concentration. This innings - his fifth score above 50 (two centuries and three half-centuries) in seven Championship innings takes his campaign average to a Bradman-esque 100.

Like Bradman, Robson hails from New South Wales. Unlike Bradman, he has a mother from Nottinghamshire and, on the surface at least, has committed to playing for England. But, as things stand, Robson does not qualify for England until this time next year and until he actually represents England, he remains eligible for Australia. Bearing in mind the shallow reserves of young batting they currently have, it seems most remiss of them not to at least attempt to lure Robson back. In selecting 35-year-old Chris Rogers, not 23-year-old Robson, for the Ashes, they may well have picked the wrong Middlesex opener.

There were a couple of uncomfortable moments for him. He was dropped on 73 by Clarke in the slips as he attempted to run one from Tom Milnes down to third man and, on 52, he was beaten by a brute of a ball from Boyd Rankin that took the shoulder of the bat and flew between the slips and gully for another four.

That apart, this was surely the most straightforward of his seven first-class centuries. On a decent pitch offering decent pace and carry, Warwickshire over-pitched and, at times, struggled with their line. Tom Allin, a 25-year-old whose father Tony, played for Glamorgan, was making his first-class debut and bowled respectably without ever threatening; Milnes, 20-years-old and as green as the outfield, was taken for 32 from his opening four-over spell - over-pitching often; and Rankin, on a comeback from injury, failed to harness his considerable weapons often enough to create meaningful pressure.

Rankin showed flashes of his menace, though. He caught Rogers a horrible blow on the elbow which caused a lengthy break for treatment and eventually made the breakthrough when the same batsman edged an attempted cut.

Joe Denly fell when he came down the pitch and played for spin that was not there, while Dawid Malan was trapped leg before by a quicker one. It makes not a jot of difference if Malan was hard done-by - he clearly thought he was - but he can consider himself very fortunate if his show of dissent afterwards does not earn him penalty points from the ECB.

But this was Robson's day and, given the toothless nature of the attack, the good character of the pitch and his insatiable appetite for batting, and there is a fair chance that the second day might be as well.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Richard on May 9, 2013, 22:24 GMT

    @ ben.p. This fixture is a one off, but later there will be 3 List A matches against Bangladesh so not all these fixtures are one offs.

    The biggest frustration with this fixture is that it should be a big fixture, with the champions playing the season's form team. But it has been reduced to Warwickshire trying to keep Middlesex to as low as score as possible and hope that Bell and Trott can make sure they don't lose. I would imagine the ECB were thinking its ok for us to take Woakes, Wright and Chopra as they are getting Bell and Trott in return. That I imagine they could accept and the injuries are bad luck on them but when Finn was not due to play but was released into the match late on Warwickshire have a right to feel peeved at the ECB for their approach. With that in mind and that they are fielding 4 and only 2 experienced bowlers releasing Woakes wouldn't have been too hard for the ECB. Luckily for the ECB, the weather will mask how they have ruined this fixture.

  • bill on May 9, 2013, 21:57 GMT

    why not have teams play each other once, less strain on players fitness, avoiding lions fixtures tests etc, and have a play off 1st v 2nd at home of top team?

  • Hamish on May 9, 2013, 9:35 GMT

    I've been following middlesex purely to see how Rogers is going, and it's quite obvious that the opening partnership of Rogers and robson is the best and most productive of the championship. Ironic considering they are both Australian born and our poor batting depth, but then again, not so ironic considering the shield is tougher than the county.

    Ignoring my provocative comment @cricketingstargazer, ive noticed that you've commented on all middlesex games and seemingly know quite a lot about robson... So I ask you this, despite his ostensible loyalty to england, if he were to get a squad call up from inverarity mid ashes, would he decline or agree?

  • Dummy4 on May 9, 2013, 7:46 GMT

    I suspect this or something similar happens in every country around the world. Its one match, if Warks are good enough they'll bounce back.

    Sam Robson, give him the call up, Invers! It may have been a weak attack but the thing is that he has the appetite to continually bat for long periods of time, this is something really lacking in Aus and anyone who can add depth in this department would be well received. I think he is a far greater chance of playing for Aus both near and long term than he is for England where surely the trio of Cook, Compton and Root will hold the top office for a long time to come. In Aus its a four way battle with Warner, Rogers, Cowan and Hughes, Hughes I suspect will become a long term no.3 and Warner is the only other long term candidate. Now sure, Robson is still untried at higher levels, but the opening is most certainly there, bring him home.

  • Ben on May 9, 2013, 7:02 GMT

    The Lions fixtures are one-offs, Mr. Dobell. You write as if they were participating in a separate league. Cyril_Knight, my heart bleeds for Warwickshire and other counties who have the resources, ( including the means to foot hefty wage bills ), to a) remain in the First Division, and b) contest the title every year, when they lose players to international duty. That is the price of success. Spare a thought for those sides who are struggling to put out a competitive team for Division 2, such as Worcestershire, many of whose best cricketers have been lured away by greater financial incentives elsewhere. CricketingStargazer is quite right. The Championship tests depth. If Warwickshire haven't got that at the moment, too bad. This situation is as much a natural part of the game as the weather.

  • Dummy4 on May 9, 2013, 2:09 GMT

    This Robson hype isn't justified, he is good yes, but touting him for australia is a joke, Alex Doolan/Cosgrove tore up the shield last season hence tassie winning, and they've not been mentioned, only Ponting outscored Cossie, and only those two and Rogers outscored Doolan, a lot of hype, i'd love to see how Robson would do for the aussie A side

  • Dummy4 on May 8, 2013, 23:32 GMT

    First the ECB robs us of Trott and Bell for two championship games when every other country has all their England players.....then if that is not bad enough they take away our other top performers, despite all of our injuries, and for what, a Lions match!!! Is it too much to ask for some consideration being given to our long list of current injuries, obviously the sad answer to that question is yes!!!

  • Ohhhh on May 8, 2013, 22:26 GMT

    1. Allows young potential Internationals to face a nye on Test starting XI. New Zealand would beat any Championship side comfortably.

    2. Takes young players away from their comfort zone and regular team-mates/grounds.

    3. Helps to replicate the pressures of International cricket as most of those players know a century/5-wickets in the Lions fixture could mean you're the next cab off the rank.

    4. Offers the likes of Joe Root, James Taylor and others the chance to captain a group of potential and current International cricketers.

    5. Allows those within the Elite England coaching set-up a chance to work with, get to know and understand the individuals who are expected to lead England's cricketing charge for the next 10 years.

  • Ian on May 8, 2013, 22:26 GMT

    If nobody else is left standing, Dougie Brown will have to make a comeback :)

  • Mark on May 8, 2013, 21:55 GMT

    @Cyril Knight It is a tough question to answer. Rogers is 12 years older and has maybe 2 years left at the top level. Where will Sam Robson be in 2 years if he continues to progress? Right now you would pick Rogers to bat for you life, would you still do it in 6 months? In 12? A lot of Middlesex fans cannot understand why Australia ignored Chris Rogers for so long however, there is no doubt which of the two is the future.

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