Robinson's allsorts push Derbyshire to the brink
Derbyshire 150 (Magoffin 4-23, Shahzad 3-34, Whittingham 3-52) and 195 for 6 (Thakor 58*, Robinson 3-70) trail Sussex 447 for 8 dec (Joyce 106, Wells 104, Nash 65, Brown 61, Taylor 54) by 102 runs Scorecard
At England's northernmost county ground, Chester-le-Street, Paul Farbrace was celebrating a Test series victory for England. At England's southernmost county ground, Hove, his stepson came close to bowling Sussex to a first victory of the season.
Ollie Robinson could easily have been lost to professional cricket, and he would only have had himself to blame. Even in a Yorkshire side brimming with pace-bowling prowess, Robinson's talent was evident: tall and able to generate dangerous bounce, sharp without being express, and able to move the ball both ways at his best, as well as being a useful batsman to boot. He had also revealed an impressive big-match temperament by impressing in T20 cricket.
The snag lay in his attitude. Two summers ago Robinson was sacked by Yorkshire on account of "a number of unprofessional actions". Robinson could not complain: he had missed too many training sessions, been too slapdash in his timekeeping and given the impression that he would sooner have a good time that be a professional cricketer. "Yeah, I liked to get away with a few things," he later admitted. Once, selected for a T20 game at Chesterfield, he turned up at Derby instead.
After being cut off by Yorkshire, Robinson still determined to make a career in the county game. Nearer to home - he grew up in Margate - Robinson played second-team cricket for Essex and Hampshire. Then Sussex handed him a short-term deal at the start of the 2015 season.
It was his opportunity to make good on his promise, and how Robinson has seized it. On first-class debut, he thrashed a century, breaking a 107-year-old county record in the process. At times last year he was entrusted to bat at No.7, though that probably flattered him a little.
But it was Robinson's bowling that proved his real worth to Sussex. Last season he got 46 Division One wickets at 24.71 apiece, an admirable debut season even if it wasn't quite enough to preserve Sussex's cherished top-flight status. It was enough, though, to make his old employers rue their loss. "He can bowl this fella. He's got some pace I tell you," Yorkshire President Dickie Bird purred watching Robinson in action against the white rose last season. "Why did we let him go?"
Bird would scarcely have been less impressed today, as Robinson went a long way towards ensuring that Sussex belatedly claim their first win of the season. Uphill or downhill; over the wicket or round the wicket; pace or offspin. To Robinson such matters were trifling, and did not dim his effectiveness.
Those qualities were best showcased in a spell either side of tea. After an admirable nine-over burst with the new ball, which could have been rewarded by more than just the wicket of Chesney Hughes, who traipsed off anaemically after being trapped lbw, Robinson returned bowling offspin.
Just three balls were needed to account for Billy Godleman, whose meticulously compiled 49 was terminated when attempting to cut a delivery that bounced up unexpectedly.
Robinson completed the over after tea, and then immediately returned to bowling pace. His seventh delivery of it elicited a loose drive from Neil Broom, neatly taken by Chris Nash at second slip. A few overs later and Robinson was back bowling offspin once more, as the gloom of Hove was lit up by the floodlights and his unwavering spirit.
Robinson's offspin is not merely serviceable, or something he experiments with jauntily in the nets, but a craft he takes seriously. It marries flight with unusual bounce in an offspinner; the wayward delivery is rarely spotted. Robinson's offspin was commendable in a Championship game at Lord's last year, and, on this evidence, could be an unlikely beneficiary of the new rules on the toss which have resulted in pitches that encourage spin bowling.
What is certain is that the gift of being able both to open the bowling with pace and then resort to offspin when conditions demand can take a career far. Just ask Colin Miller, whose unusual cocktail of bowling qualities earned a Test debut for Australia age 34 and then the Australian Test player of the Year gong in one of the greatest cricket teams of all time.
On this day, all Robinson longed for was to seal Sussex's first victory of the season. That his efforts were not sufficient to do so owed much to Shiv Thakor.
It was a source of huge regret to Leicestershire when Thakor, a local boy with the skill and temperament to achieve much in the game, made the short move to Derbyshire after the 2014 season.
What followed was a deeply underwhelming season. He averaged 21.81 with the bat in first-class cricket and 51.30 with the ball, rather the inverse of the allrounder's ideal, and approached 2016 with almost as much to prove as Robinson a year ago.
In a Derbyshire side palpably short on confidence, Thakur has made an excellent start. Those underwhelming figures of 2015 have been reversed, this nascent campaign so far bringing 376 runs at 94.00 apiece to go with 17 wickets at 25.29. Though Thakor has already bettered his wicket tally of last year, benefiting from working with Graeme Welch, it is his batting that is the cause of much excitement.
His game brims with grace and elegance, particularly in his offside driving. He is also possessing of an admirable temperament, which he has shown off in both innings here. During the bedlam of Derbyshire's first innings, he made a rapid 47 not out that was more than twice as much as anyone else mustered. Here, Thakor showed poise once more to ensure that Derbyshire extended the game to a final day, even as Robinson, bowling offspin again, beseeched the umpire to give Thakor out lbw from the final delivery; somehow, Robinson's primal scream went unanswered.
Like Thakor, Robinson would have been gladdened by his day's work; unlike Thakor, Robinson must have left a little fearful that, just as it did against Sussex three weeks ago, inclement weather could yet help Derbyshire salvage a draw.
Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts