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News

'Forensic' Ollie Robinson already planning for New Zealand ahead of expected Test debut

Sussex coach James Kirtley praises seamer's "ability to dissect batsmen"

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
30-May-2021
Sussex had tried just about everything to get Kiran Carlson out in their County Championship fixture away at Glamorgan earlier this season: he had made 127 not out in the first innings, and was 129 not out overnight heading into the final day, holding up their push for victory. As usual, Ollie Robinson arrived at the ground on the final morning and immediately began scouring videos and discussing plans with James Kirtley, the club's T20 head coach and assistant to Ian Salisbury in the Championship.
Robinson had noticed that Carlson had remodelled his technique over the winter, meaning that footage from previous years - "which was all about getting tight to the crease and trying to swing the ball away" - was rendered useless. "I spoke to James Kirtley about coming wider on the crease and trying to angle it into him, taking it outside his natural eyeline," he recalled.
With the third ball he bowled to Carlson on the final day, he went wide, angled it in, and had him caught at second slip. "I pointed up to James on the balcony - it was one of those nice moments where the hard work you do watching the footage pays off," he said. Robinson took the final four Glamorgan wickets for good measure to finish with career-best figures of 9 for 78, setting up an eight-wicket win.
It is that approach to video analysis and preparation for opposition batters which led Jason Gillespie, his former Sussex coach, to call Robinson "comfortably the most researched fast bowler I have come across", and Kirtley shares a similar view. "He has a thirst for knowledge," he told ESPNcricinfo at Hove this week. "The way he looks at opposition batters is forensic.
"He can come across as quite a laidback chap with a wicked sense of humour but when it comes to cricket, he knows his opposition inside out. We talk about certain deliveries or positions from the crease, or what we can do with the eyeline of a batter. When you have someone who has the skill to actually deliver and execute some of those plans, it's so exciting when they come to fruition.
"That's what will equip him well at the international level. He has incredible skill and ability to execute but also this forensic ability to dissect batsmen, which will give him the edge. We try and keep it hidden, but quietly, we're both real cricket badgers."
Three days out from a likely Test debut against New Zealand at Lord's this week, Robinson said that he has already "done a lot on their top four… trying to work out how I'm going to go about getting them out and setting them up," and revealed his plan to dismiss his former Yorkshire team-mate Kane Williamson.
"Swinging it away from him, setting him up, pulling him across the crease and then using the crease with the nip backer to get him lbw looks like a solid option," he said. "That will be Plan A, but if he get a few more we have got a few Plans Bs and Cs in the background."
Robinson's brief overlap with Williamson - they played a YB40 game together in 2013 and a T20 Blast fixture the following summer - came at a different stage in his cricketing journey, shortly before he was sacked by Yorkshire for "unprofessional actions". While still a fierce competitor on the pitch who admits to experiencing "white-line fever", Robinson's recent returns - he has 195 first-class wickets at 17.29 since the start of 2018 - have been aided by him growing up off it.
"He has matured, and I think him becoming a father last year has changed him," Kirtley said. "The sniff of international recognition with the Lions tour that he went on [to Australia in early 2020] made him realise 'actually, this is on'. He knows he still has a little bit of work to do but the way he's responded to the responsibility of becoming vice-captain of the Championship side - with the bat as much as anything - shows his desire."
His ability with the bat - he has averaged 28.50 in first-class cricket since the start of last summer - means that he is competing for a single spot at No. 8 with Craig Overton: neither bowler has extreme pace, but they are both tall, and use their height to find steep bounce from a length. England's desire to blood their uncapped players before this winter's Ashes series and Robinson record at Lord's - 22 wickets at 18.54 in three appearances there - means he could well get the nod this week.
"Any time you get to make your debut is obviously very special but to do it at Lord's with fans back, it will make it even more special," he said. "I do feel like if I get my chance I am ready. I don't feel too nervous at the moment and I feel like I should take to it fairly well. I definitely feel like I have got different gears that I can step up to in Test cricket.
"I'm a wholehearted cricketer. I will be getting in New Zealand's faces and trying to gee the boys up a bit. I can bring that extra edge hopefully. That means verbals but also body language - being up and about… I'll be going fairly hard."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98