January 31, 2014

The Aussie who headed to HQ

Thousands of youngsters pitch up in London to find a groove but not many are like Sam Robson, who aims to play Test cricket for England
21

It is a cold, gunmetal grey day in Loughborough, a market town that trades in future England cricketers among its substantial student stock. Flooded fields in the surrounding countryside are an indicator of how much rain has fallen recently and paths of wet tarmac crisscross the university campus on the way to the ECB's National Performance Centre. The warmth inside is welcome, the heating turned up as far as it will go, in an attempt to replicate conditions for playing and training in Sri Lanka, where the Lions have now arrived on tour.

"It's certainly a world away," says Sam Robson, considering the change from where he was previously billeted, in Australia with the England Performance Programme and then for Christmas with his family - though he could just as well be referring to the forthcoming challenge in the subcontinent, where a crop of greenhorns more used to green pitches will attempt to puff their England credentials in sapping heat and humidity. The cooling breeze of Sydney's Eastern Suburbs, where Robson grew up, will seem a distant memory.

The thought does not seem to perturb him, however. It is the job of the modern professional cricketer to travel the world from assignment to assignment and there is no job in the world that Robson ever wanted more. It explains the easy shrug of the shoulders at having again left behind family and friends, not to mention the southern sun; as well as his apparent enthusiasm for resuming indoor net sessions in England in January. And it explains why another of his talents may yet go unfulfilled.

In one of the other trouser legs of time, instead of practising his cover drive, Robson would perhaps be working on some different strokes. Keen on pencil sketching, he was accepted to study arts at Sydney University - "but cricket panned out the way it did and I deferred, then deferred the next year and by the time you keep deferring, your spot's gone, so here I am, sitting here now, without a degree."

Now those fine motor skills are more often employed in nudging a cricket ball into gaps in the field, although they are still useful for entertaining team-mates when the opposition have found a way to exile him to the dressing room. "I should do more than I do," he says, "my mother keeps on to me telling me I should keep doing it." Fortunately the sporting ability he simultaneously nurtured has thus far served him well.

"I think I would have enjoyed university, from what I hear from my mates who tell me about their adventures, I think I would have had a fair bit of fun. [Now] they're in the real world, they've got proper jobs and everything is mapped out for them. It's a bit different as a professional cricketer but I wouldn't change it for the world. I'm aware of how lucky I am."

A cricketer who bats for love not money (he has only played four T20s), for whom Tests are "the pinnacle", Robson is also a young man who would rather be outdoors, throwing or hitting a ball, than staring at a screen

As much as it is possible to make your own luck, Robson has. At the age of 18, fresh out of Marcellin College, a Catholic high school in Randwick, he came to London, essentially in search of a hit. From a legspinner who batted down the order when playing for Australia Under-19s, Robson converted himself into a gutsy, acquisitive opener for Middlesex. Last season, during which he qualified to play for England, Robson finished as the third-highest run-scorer in Division One of the County Championship.

Martin McCague, the Australian-raised seamer, was called "the rat who joined a sinking ship" when capped by England in 1993. After their Ashes horribilis, you might say the current England team have already been sunk, and it is not a stretch to imagine Robson opening the batting alongside Alastair Cook in the first Test of the summer at his home ground, Lord's.

Robson has a studied forward defence when it comes to such possibilities, just as he flicks away persistent questions about nationality. "If I ever become good enough, I want to play for England," he says, one subject eliding into the other. What he doesn't suppress is the sense of cricket - and the desire to play good cricket - as an obsession, something that should be worked at assiduously. In the steady accretion of experience and aptitude, the Lions tour is just another incremental step.

"Since I started to take the game really seriously, when I was 15, 16, 17 - my whole thing has just been to try and improve and get better and see where that takes me," he says. "I don't know where I'm going to end up. I'll keep working hard. I'd love to play Test cricket, there's no doubt about it, but what's worked for me the last few years, and helped me slowly develop and improve is just the fact that I've tried to keep getting better each day."

As England have previously discovered to their advantage, there is no zealot like a convert. Robson says he enjoys working with Mark Ramprakash, Middlesex's batting coach and a man for whom practice and perfect never quite married up at international level, but he seems able to modulate his own intensity. In some respects, Robson is like thousands of other young Australians who pitch up in London and find a comfortable groove. His passion for his vocation is matched by his "love" for the city he now calls home, and having a life outside of cricket is, he says, "good for your game, good for you as a person".

Such a balanced outlook is indicative of Robson's priorities. A cricketer who bats for love not money (he has only played four T20s), for whom Tests are "the pinnacle", he is also a young man who would rather be outdoors, throwing or hitting a ball, than staring at a screen - unusually, for his generation, Robson is not on Twitter, seeing it as just "another thing to check". In a digital world, he seems charmingly analogue.

With English cricket in a rare state of flux, Robson's qualities may become increasingly attractive but his focus remains on the next assignment: Sri Lanka and then the County Championship with Middlesex, continuing this pilgrim's progress. "Whether anything comes from it or not, that's life. I've just got to do as well as I can."

Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • UndertheGrill on February 6, 2014, 19:45 GMT

    If you can't beat them, pick them, I say.

  • landl47 on February 3, 2014, 14:26 GMT

    At the beginning of the last English season I wouldn't have given Robson a lot of chance, with Root having played successfully in India and the two NZ series and been promoted to opener. However, Sam had a very good season last year, has just made 120 for England Lions in SL and Root has hit a (temporary) bump in the road. With England needing some new blood and a longer-term prospect than Carberry to open, Robson must have a good chance at a place in the international side.

    At 24, he's a bit more mature than some recent picks and he seems to be on a steady upward trajectory. If he makes it, that gives England another young player to join a good group coming through.

  • CodandChips on February 2, 2014, 14:02 GMT

    @shillingsworth agree. People seem to forget that birth place is not always the same as nationality, and that many countries have players representing a country different to where they were born. New Zealand alone have Watling, Wagner, Sodh etc. Australia with Henriques, O'Keefe, Ahmed. It is not something I have a problem with.

    For some players, they have more justification to play for their current nation rather than where they were born. Ben Stokes for example- moved to England aged 12. That time in secondary school is most likely where he developed his cricket skills and his culture (such as his accent, feistyness).

    Robson has an English mother and other family members have played in England. Yes you should acknowledge and respect his country of birth and upbringing, but you cannot ignore this.

    @Paul Mcallister Darren Pattinson was born in England (although If he grew up in Aus fair enough). Andrew Symonds was born in Birmingham (but I have no problem with him

  • Swan_Draught on February 1, 2014, 15:54 GMT

    Yorkshire born (but Australian raised) Sam Whiteman will be a better player for Australian than Sam Robson for England.

  • on February 1, 2014, 14:49 GMT

    @jonesy2isaBigot who here said that cowan and voges are good? Voges has never and will never play test cricket, and cowan should never have. Those are average players, not test level.

  • Gauss on February 1, 2014, 13:41 GMT

    Have known Sam since he was a baby, he's as Aussie as they come. I recall him developing the skills mentioned in the article by sketching all the NRL and AFL logos at a very young age. Would love to see him play for Australia, but wish him the very best if he gets a start for England. Why is it so hard to just respect his decision?

  • markatnotts on February 1, 2014, 10:15 GMT

    MrKricket, the England Test team has only had two products of SA play for them in the last few years (KP and Trott), and two Irishman who enhanced their games in our county system. Most players people keep whinging about on here are people like Strauss (who you quite rightly mention as ok), Prior, Stokes etc.

  • markatnotts on February 1, 2014, 9:59 GMT

    @cricketsubh, if scoring runs in division one first class cricket in England is so easy, can you explain why Adam Voges really struggled in his last stint with my team Notts, and also why Ed Cowan kept getting starts and then getting out? Also Justin Langer rather famously contradicted your claim!

  • markatnotts on February 1, 2014, 9:54 GMT

    Well said shillingsworth, I tried to comment yesterday and even though my comment had more substance and logic than some of the others published on my thread, it was not published. Anyway just wait for the howls of indignation if Ollie Rayner played for England! Of course he would be labelled as a product of German cricket. Finally for those seeking the real reason Eire haven't got closer yo Test status, quite simply they don't have a first class system of their own yet!

  • MrKricket on February 1, 2014, 9:43 GMT

    Aus has only ever had Wessells in the last 50 years playing Tests, you can't count Symonds or anyone else who was born overseas but grew up in Australia. Fawaz Ahmed would be the second but he's unlikely to ever play Tests. Compare that with England with their United Nations team. Exclude the Saffers like Strauss who grew up in the UK of course but look at the rest. Can someone write a list?

  • UndertheGrill on February 6, 2014, 19:45 GMT

    If you can't beat them, pick them, I say.

  • landl47 on February 3, 2014, 14:26 GMT

    At the beginning of the last English season I wouldn't have given Robson a lot of chance, with Root having played successfully in India and the two NZ series and been promoted to opener. However, Sam had a very good season last year, has just made 120 for England Lions in SL and Root has hit a (temporary) bump in the road. With England needing some new blood and a longer-term prospect than Carberry to open, Robson must have a good chance at a place in the international side.

    At 24, he's a bit more mature than some recent picks and he seems to be on a steady upward trajectory. If he makes it, that gives England another young player to join a good group coming through.

  • CodandChips on February 2, 2014, 14:02 GMT

    @shillingsworth agree. People seem to forget that birth place is not always the same as nationality, and that many countries have players representing a country different to where they were born. New Zealand alone have Watling, Wagner, Sodh etc. Australia with Henriques, O'Keefe, Ahmed. It is not something I have a problem with.

    For some players, they have more justification to play for their current nation rather than where they were born. Ben Stokes for example- moved to England aged 12. That time in secondary school is most likely where he developed his cricket skills and his culture (such as his accent, feistyness).

    Robson has an English mother and other family members have played in England. Yes you should acknowledge and respect his country of birth and upbringing, but you cannot ignore this.

    @Paul Mcallister Darren Pattinson was born in England (although If he grew up in Aus fair enough). Andrew Symonds was born in Birmingham (but I have no problem with him

  • Swan_Draught on February 1, 2014, 15:54 GMT

    Yorkshire born (but Australian raised) Sam Whiteman will be a better player for Australian than Sam Robson for England.

  • on February 1, 2014, 14:49 GMT

    @jonesy2isaBigot who here said that cowan and voges are good? Voges has never and will never play test cricket, and cowan should never have. Those are average players, not test level.

  • Gauss on February 1, 2014, 13:41 GMT

    Have known Sam since he was a baby, he's as Aussie as they come. I recall him developing the skills mentioned in the article by sketching all the NRL and AFL logos at a very young age. Would love to see him play for Australia, but wish him the very best if he gets a start for England. Why is it so hard to just respect his decision?

  • markatnotts on February 1, 2014, 10:15 GMT

    MrKricket, the England Test team has only had two products of SA play for them in the last few years (KP and Trott), and two Irishman who enhanced their games in our county system. Most players people keep whinging about on here are people like Strauss (who you quite rightly mention as ok), Prior, Stokes etc.

  • markatnotts on February 1, 2014, 9:59 GMT

    @cricketsubh, if scoring runs in division one first class cricket in England is so easy, can you explain why Adam Voges really struggled in his last stint with my team Notts, and also why Ed Cowan kept getting starts and then getting out? Also Justin Langer rather famously contradicted your claim!

  • markatnotts on February 1, 2014, 9:54 GMT

    Well said shillingsworth, I tried to comment yesterday and even though my comment had more substance and logic than some of the others published on my thread, it was not published. Anyway just wait for the howls of indignation if Ollie Rayner played for England! Of course he would be labelled as a product of German cricket. Finally for those seeking the real reason Eire haven't got closer yo Test status, quite simply they don't have a first class system of their own yet!

  • MrKricket on February 1, 2014, 9:43 GMT

    Aus has only ever had Wessells in the last 50 years playing Tests, you can't count Symonds or anyone else who was born overseas but grew up in Australia. Fawaz Ahmed would be the second but he's unlikely to ever play Tests. Compare that with England with their United Nations team. Exclude the Saffers like Strauss who grew up in the UK of course but look at the rest. Can someone write a list?

  • shillingsworth on February 1, 2014, 9:27 GMT

    @Ruminate - All the emotive words (plunder, import, poach etc) rather ignore the obvious point that the players' are free agents and have exercised their right to choose. The players can speak for themselves, I don't need to ask myself anything.

  • ygkd on February 1, 2014, 2:27 GMT

    I have a different take on this. Why is such an opportunity only open to the lucky few? I have no problem with players travelling across borders, but can't for the life of me see why the few should get to do it, when others can't. The decent thing would be to open things up a bit more to those just starting out. The quality of the game would not be the worse for it.

  • cricketsubh on February 1, 2014, 1:47 GMT

    let robinson play some test for england then say about his talent. their is a big gap between test cricket and english 1st class cricket scoreing runs in 1st class in england cricket is easy but scoreing runs in test cricket is very diffcult so robinson need to prove he can play test cricket for england .

  • Ruminate on February 1, 2014, 0:15 GMT

    There is only one 'Country' that treats it's representative cricket team like a EPL club with a raft of players imported (plundered) from other countries. In this case, it the player is Robson who had left to develop his game. It is not his fault here and no question he has done the right thing for himself. However this does not hide the problem that exists in England's poaching of players through its Country cricket system. Think of the plight of Ireland whose players are taken away and thereby their chance of being elevated from Associate ICC member. There is a difference between someone moving country as a minor and someone moving country for education or work. Ask your self, is he English or Australian. Are Boyd Rankin and Eoin Morgan Irish or English?

  • on January 31, 2014, 22:52 GMT

    why would he even want to play for the Poms when he's an Aussie! will add him to the list of Aussies who made a pact with the devil by playing for the whinging Poms!

    The Hollioake brothers. Jason Gallian. Darren Pattinson. Tim Ambrose. Garaint Jones (arrived in Aus not long after being in nappies). Martin McCague. Craig White (arrived in Aus in nappies!)

  • shillingsworth on January 31, 2014, 14:31 GMT

    @nrlman - Ironically, the ECB have changed the eligibility rules, so your tirade looks a tad foolish. The England team actually largely comprises people who have been resident in the UK for many years and have played all their representative cricket in England. Some happen to have been born outside the UK - so what? Your new rules would certainly stop Pietersen and Robson playing for England. They would also halt the international careers of Imran Tahir, Fawad Alam and some New Zealand players. How is this exclusively an issue with England?

  • shillingsworth on January 31, 2014, 11:40 GMT

    If he's played for Australia at u19 level, that should be the only country he can represent IMHO. However, he doesn't make the rules and if he wants to play for England, he's perfectly entitled to do so. Sad that some can't respect his choice.

  • HatsforBats on January 31, 2014, 11:38 GMT

    How exactly does Robson see his life as any different to, or better than his mates? He is now on the professional ECB grind and will find himself, barring injury, looking for a new career in his mid-30's. How more mapped out could his life be? Meanwhile, his mates (who apparently aren't as lucky) are reaching their professional peaks having spent the last few years at home every weekend with their kids.

    Good luck to him though. He was never (NEVER) going to get a start with NSW and obviously felt his best opportunity for a test career (which I admire greatly) was playing for England. Personally, I don't feel I could trade my country for a professional opportunity (I almost represented NSW, but I simply wasn't good enough, such is my lot). I've not seen him bat so there must be something there that outshines such a modest record, but if he's next in line to open with Cook...well, surely not.

  • nrlman on January 31, 2014, 10:55 GMT

    It is high time that the ICC (the most pathetic organisation in the world outside the UN) changed eligibility criteria for international cricket. The England team is almost an international b team. If you reside in a country up to the age of 18 you should represent that country. It should not be a case of opportunism.

    Perhaps Bangladesh could say to India that they will vote in line with everything they do (which they already do anyway) in exchange for money to entice the world's best cricket talent to their nation. Is this what it will eventually come to? (Not that anyone would want to live in Bangladesh.)

    Forget parentage & grand parentage rules & go with place of birth for the majority of cases. There will always be some cases where young boys have had to move countries for various reasons & each case should be judged on merits.

    It will soon become a joke like the Rugby League Queensland State of Origin eligibility.

  • on January 31, 2014, 6:25 GMT

    he was 18 when he left and now he wants to play for england? how pathetic is that, how can you hold your head high son? I would rather not play test cricket than play for england! Hope he makes it to test level, plays in the ashes and gets a huge run of low scores hehe

  • Sir_Francis on January 31, 2014, 2:52 GMT

    trouser legs of time? Nice to see a Pratchett reference snuck in there.

    Marcellin was, in my time, a rugby playing school. Although I do recall seeing nets

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  • Sir_Francis on January 31, 2014, 2:52 GMT

    trouser legs of time? Nice to see a Pratchett reference snuck in there.

    Marcellin was, in my time, a rugby playing school. Although I do recall seeing nets

  • on January 31, 2014, 6:25 GMT

    he was 18 when he left and now he wants to play for england? how pathetic is that, how can you hold your head high son? I would rather not play test cricket than play for england! Hope he makes it to test level, plays in the ashes and gets a huge run of low scores hehe

  • nrlman on January 31, 2014, 10:55 GMT

    It is high time that the ICC (the most pathetic organisation in the world outside the UN) changed eligibility criteria for international cricket. The England team is almost an international b team. If you reside in a country up to the age of 18 you should represent that country. It should not be a case of opportunism.

    Perhaps Bangladesh could say to India that they will vote in line with everything they do (which they already do anyway) in exchange for money to entice the world's best cricket talent to their nation. Is this what it will eventually come to? (Not that anyone would want to live in Bangladesh.)

    Forget parentage & grand parentage rules & go with place of birth for the majority of cases. There will always be some cases where young boys have had to move countries for various reasons & each case should be judged on merits.

    It will soon become a joke like the Rugby League Queensland State of Origin eligibility.

  • HatsforBats on January 31, 2014, 11:38 GMT

    How exactly does Robson see his life as any different to, or better than his mates? He is now on the professional ECB grind and will find himself, barring injury, looking for a new career in his mid-30's. How more mapped out could his life be? Meanwhile, his mates (who apparently aren't as lucky) are reaching their professional peaks having spent the last few years at home every weekend with their kids.

    Good luck to him though. He was never (NEVER) going to get a start with NSW and obviously felt his best opportunity for a test career (which I admire greatly) was playing for England. Personally, I don't feel I could trade my country for a professional opportunity (I almost represented NSW, but I simply wasn't good enough, such is my lot). I've not seen him bat so there must be something there that outshines such a modest record, but if he's next in line to open with Cook...well, surely not.

  • shillingsworth on January 31, 2014, 11:40 GMT

    If he's played for Australia at u19 level, that should be the only country he can represent IMHO. However, he doesn't make the rules and if he wants to play for England, he's perfectly entitled to do so. Sad that some can't respect his choice.

  • shillingsworth on January 31, 2014, 14:31 GMT

    @nrlman - Ironically, the ECB have changed the eligibility rules, so your tirade looks a tad foolish. The England team actually largely comprises people who have been resident in the UK for many years and have played all their representative cricket in England. Some happen to have been born outside the UK - so what? Your new rules would certainly stop Pietersen and Robson playing for England. They would also halt the international careers of Imran Tahir, Fawad Alam and some New Zealand players. How is this exclusively an issue with England?

  • on January 31, 2014, 22:52 GMT

    why would he even want to play for the Poms when he's an Aussie! will add him to the list of Aussies who made a pact with the devil by playing for the whinging Poms!

    The Hollioake brothers. Jason Gallian. Darren Pattinson. Tim Ambrose. Garaint Jones (arrived in Aus not long after being in nappies). Martin McCague. Craig White (arrived in Aus in nappies!)

  • Ruminate on February 1, 2014, 0:15 GMT

    There is only one 'Country' that treats it's representative cricket team like a EPL club with a raft of players imported (plundered) from other countries. In this case, it the player is Robson who had left to develop his game. It is not his fault here and no question he has done the right thing for himself. However this does not hide the problem that exists in England's poaching of players through its Country cricket system. Think of the plight of Ireland whose players are taken away and thereby their chance of being elevated from Associate ICC member. There is a difference between someone moving country as a minor and someone moving country for education or work. Ask your self, is he English or Australian. Are Boyd Rankin and Eoin Morgan Irish or English?

  • cricketsubh on February 1, 2014, 1:47 GMT

    let robinson play some test for england then say about his talent. their is a big gap between test cricket and english 1st class cricket scoreing runs in 1st class in england cricket is easy but scoreing runs in test cricket is very diffcult so robinson need to prove he can play test cricket for england .

  • ygkd on February 1, 2014, 2:27 GMT

    I have a different take on this. Why is such an opportunity only open to the lucky few? I have no problem with players travelling across borders, but can't for the life of me see why the few should get to do it, when others can't. The decent thing would be to open things up a bit more to those just starting out. The quality of the game would not be the worse for it.