SL A v England Lions, 2nd unofficial Test, Dambulla, 2nd day February 20, 2014

England reap Robson's unintended consequences


Lions take control in Dambulla

England Lions 291 for 4 (Robson 142, Taylor 99*) lead Sri Lanka A 289 by two runs

Sam Robson's path towards England recognition has been affected by the law of unintended consequences, making him a subject Robert K. Merton would have craved when he brought the theory into the public domain in the 1930s.

Coincidentally, when Merton's paper was published in 1936, another Australia-born player was a huge part of English cricket. It remains to be seen whether Robson can create a legacy to sit alongside Gubby Allen but a fateful decision in 2008 has given him the chance.

A hundred to give England Lions control in Dambulla - his fourth century in five matches - brings him closer to following Allen from Sydney to Test cricket for England. And his stand of 197 with James Taylor, who finished the day tantalisingly one run away from his own century, has given England Lions control of the second unofficial Test.

Shunning university to play cricket, Robson was signed up to play for Normandy CC in the Surrey Championship. Making 91 on debut was a convincing start and almost immediately he was handed an opportunity by Middlesex. The next season, what started as a trip to further his cricket had turned into a professional career.

Cause No. 3 of Merton's unintended consequences is 'immediate interest'. Robson wanted to play cricket. He was forced to shift his life half way around the world. So be it. He began as a sporty child in Sydney's suburbs, fell in love with cricket in England, and could now reward the country which seduced him and gave him his new life.

Robson has seized his chance to become a composed opening batsman with a compact technique and a cool head, assets England could turn to as they begin a new era in the summer. If Robson is selected, two of his first three Tests will be on his home ground, the venue that hooked him.

Here he comfortably saw off the new ball, a lesser threat in the absence of Dhammika Prasad who joined the Sri Lanka ODI squad in Bangladesh, and began a steady accumulation against the spinners. Like for England's slow bowlers, there was little in the way of dangerous turn on what is a fairly slow wicket. Tharindu Kaushal struggled the most, conceding almost four-and-a-half an over.

Chaturunga de Silva did most of the bowling and provided a solid display given how easily England scored in the afternoon. Chatura Randunu, a left-armer providing a third spin option, also outbowled Kaushal.

Robson took three boundaries in a row off de Silva having passed fifty in 106 balls. The first was a shimmy down the wicket, lifting a drive over the bowlers head. The second a firm cut to a ball too short. The third a stupendous cover drive, the face of the bat opened to thread it through the gap between extra-cover and mid-off. It was perhaps his best shot.

There were plenty to choose from as Robson took another 64 balls for his hundred with 15 boundaries. After a lean time in Pallekele, he was back into the form that he seen him flourish this winter.

His summer ended on a weak note with a top score of just 45 from the final six Championship matches of the season, as Middlesex's title challenge flopped. But he excelled in Australia with consecutive hundreds for the England Performance Programme. Another hundred was added in the first warm-up match of this tour.

He does not have a technique to dazzle but has proved he possesses the mental capacity to make runs at the top of the order on a consistent basis. It is important he can prove he has the whole package for Test cricket. Runs may not be the full source of selection in the summer. Nick Compton put up an overwhelming case for a Test call up on paper - and continued to do so last season after being dropped - but the selectors decided, after two poor Tests, that he was not the man for them.

Robson could be. After tea he even treated himself to holding the pose through an exquisitely timed cover drive which sped away to the boundary.

He fell clipping a Kaushal full toss to midwicket where a sharp catch was held low down by Upal Tharanga - indicative of the way Sri Lanka A stayed game in the field; some of the work on the boundary was outstanding. Kaushal then bowled nightwatchman Ollie Rayner as the hosts took a little hope with them into the close that another fightback could be possible.

Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Owen on February 21, 2014, 12:49 GMT

    Just gonna wade in here because salazar555 has looked purely at single statistic, and then got annoyed when someone didn't agree with him - it is something that seems to be in fashion on comments boards, but it's just wrong

    You see, thankfully selectors don't just look at a single number and think that is the answer to everything, that's why we have sentient beings as selectors and not computers. Selectors also look at recent form; Moeen was averaging 62.5 last season. Selectors also look at the players ability to perform under pressure; Moeen batted in a brittle Worcs line-up so was always under pressure to score. Selectors also look at technique, as it gives an indication of whether they can make the step up; Moeen's technique is not just solid, it is a work of art. Selectors also look at their ability to contribute in other departments; Moeen took crucial wickets last season.

    Remember, there are lies, damned lies and statistics.

  • Peter on February 21, 2014, 12:05 GMT


    What has a PCA award got to do with it? Whether he should be getting an award with a record like that is debatable. The numbers don't lie. He plays 2nd division cricket and averages 37. If I'm telling lies then point it out but don't argue against the facts. He should be no where near selection with with an average like that. So why is he?

  • Lee on February 21, 2014, 11:30 GMT


    Probably something to do with him recently being names PCA Player of the Year and that he is a genuine all-rounder who would not only add with the bat (averages can be deceiving) but also with the ball! He is primarily a batsman who can bowl mind you so he shouldn't just be our spin option.

    For me there are a number of names in the hat at the moment which is positive... Ali, Balance, Morgan, Taylor... all deserve a crack at the 4th/5th position imo dependent on what we are looking for - an all rounder with some spin variation? attacking flair? someone who will tick over the scoreboard?...all missing over the last year at times!

  • Colin on February 21, 2014, 11:26 GMT

    I hope Taylor gets a go as he deserves it. He looks to have a good temperament too. Woakes is doing well but he seriously is not going to be good enough! Sorry to the Warks fans but he looks pedestrian with the ball and will never get good batters out and he is a Test no.8. Stokes is miles better. Would Woakes get a Test ton against Johnson at Perth? No. My Test team is: Cook, Root, Taylor, Bell, Ali, Stokes, Prior, Broad, Onions, Anderson, Panesar. Panesar is the best we have although I would be tempted to go in with Ali as the only spinner in early season conditions and play another bat (probably fatboy Ballance). Hopefully Trott gets well soon as that batting looks thin! Oh and to the people picking Borthwick - he doesn't bowl for Durham and was poor in grade cricket: how do you think he'll go against Indian and Sri Lankan batsmen?

  • Peter on February 21, 2014, 11:01 GMT

    M Ali averages 37 in FC cricket. I don't why his fan club seem to think he's going to walk into the test team, especially as it's 37 in 2nd division county cricket. Taylor is knocking on the door, as is Robson and Woakes. I don't think any will start the first test in the summer though, I think it will be:

    Cook, Root, Bell, Ballance, Morgan, Stokes, Butler, Borthwick, Broad, Anderson Onions

  • Owen on February 21, 2014, 9:24 GMT

    I think Taylor has probably done enough now for a test spot unless he has a terrible start to the CC. My team would be 1.Cook 2.Root 3.Bell 4.Taylor 5.Ali 6.Stokes 7.Butler 8.Borthwick 9.Broad 10.Anderson 11.Wood/Jordan

    Possibly Morgan for Borthwick if Ali's spin will be enough.

  • Lee on February 21, 2014, 4:44 GMT

    I haven't seen too much of him but he seems to be getting big scores in the England whites which is positive. A loss of form in towards the end of the season doesn't matter too much for me, every player goes through bad patches of form on the county circuit now and then in his career; the big test is making 100s for England and no matter the quality of the opposition he seems to be doing that. I'd be inclined to see him, Ali and Taylor given a go:

    Cook, Robson, Bell, Taylor, Ali, Prior, Stokes, Broad, Borthwick, Woakes/Jordan, Anderson

    Looks a good balance of experience and youth for me. It would be unfortunate for Root but he is still evolving as a player and will be given plenty of future opportunities!

  • carl on February 20, 2014, 23:19 GMT

    Barely a mention of James Taylor again? What does the guy need to do before he earns a little praise? He averages about a 100 for the Lions but no one seems to mention it!!

  • Mark on February 20, 2014, 20:13 GMT

    @olsedcopian Yes. We know. He started last season brilliantly but, after the mid-season break, the talk about a Lions tour and an England call-up seemed to make him nervous and his form vanished. The point has been made that his recent First Class form has been poor - that is what happened. When the pitches were juicy and conditions difficult in the first half of the season he scored a lot of runs and, with Chris Rogers, carried the Middlesex batting. It's part of the process of maturing and he is far from the first batsman to go through a potential Test selection inspired slump!

    However, as has been pointed out regularly on here and elsewhere, form is temporary and class is permanent. Robson has some class about him. I'd rather a batsman who shows hunger whatever the opposition and cashes in, than one who goes out for a stroll and doesn't do it even when things are in his favour.

  • Paulo on February 20, 2014, 19:55 GMT

    @sirviv re woakes/stokes

    "As for Woakes, he certainly should be in for a shout of a test place. 1 He had better county stats than Stokes last year 2 Stokes may need a rest. Look at Joe Root for example 3 Stokes was picked to suit Aussie conditions so Woakes should surely get a go in England 4 Woakes plays half his cricket at Edgbaston, a seamers graveyard 5 Woakes is far more likely to be a consistent batsman who bowls with better control than Stokes who takes wickets expensively and isn't consistent at all batting wise 6 Stokes performances were overstated in Australia by how poorly the rest played.

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