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
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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.

  • dummy4fb 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?

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