County news August 3, 2013

Robson qualification boost for England

England may have struck an important blow in future Ashes series after Sam Robson qualified to represent England.

Robson, the Australian-born opening batsman, is currently the leading run scorer in Division One of the County Championship and is considered one of the brightest batting prospects in England or Australia.

A right-handed opening batsman much in the style of Mike Atherton, it had been thought that Robson would qualify for England early in 2014 but his status was recently reviewed by Middlesex and the ECB have confirmed he is now eligible to play for England or England Lions in all formats.

He was born in New South Wales and represented Australia Under-19s but, taking advantage of a UK passport courtesy of his Nottingham-born mother, he moved to England as a teenager in 2008 and has now completed the requisite residency period.

Now aged 24, Robson has become a regular at the top of the order in the Middlesex team and must be considered a candidate for the Test side. While England's top three appears settled, Robson's temperament and technique combined with his heavy run scoring may prove hard to ignore.

While Robson has always been somewhat equivocal about his allegiances - he has dismissed talk of a call-up to either England or Australia as "unrealistic" and suggested he would cross that bridge when he came to it - he is committed to Middlesex and declined opportunities to play first-class cricket in Australia. His status as an England-qualified player will enable Middlesex to gain performance-related fee payments from the ECB each time he represents them.

"England is where it is at for me," Robson told ESPNcricinfo earlier this season. "I came to London as soon as I finished school. I love living here and I love playing for Middlesex. There have been opportunities to play first-class cricket in Australia but it would jeopardise my future with Middlesex and I can't do that." Robson would have to play as an overseas player if he represented an Australian state in first-class cricket.

His brother, 21-year-old Angus Robson, is also involved in the county system and is currently playing second XI cricket for Leicestershire. Their father, Jim, played second XI cricket for Worcestershire in 1979.

Robson's qualification does not rule him out of playing for Australia and, until he actually represents a full England side, he will remain eligible for the nation of his birth. It is believed that Australia's selectors have followed his progress closely but were only recently made fully aware of his eligibility - an oversight considering his background in the Under-19 team - and have done little to compete with the opportunities offered by county cricket.

That will be a concern to Cricket Australia. In a country that is currently struggling to produce batsmen who thrive on occupying the crease for long periods of time, losing a player of Robson's calibre to the old enemy may create a certain amount of soul searching.

But while the top Australian players earn more than their England counterparts, normal county players enjoy far more playing opportunities in England and greater job security. Had he remained in Australia, Robson may have struggled to break into his Shield team or develop his career so quickly.

The 18-year-old Sam Hain, who has been described as the best young batting talent in Australia, has also utilised his UK passport to sign a contract with Warwickshire.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo