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ESPNcricinfo Awards 2021 Debutant of the year: Ollie Robinson's wonderful, terrible 12 months

It was 12 months to (mostly) remember for the England fast bowler

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
10-Feb-2022
A taste for big fish: Robinson dismissed Virat Kohli three times in Tests in 2021  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

A taste for big fish: Robinson dismissed Virat Kohli three times in Tests in 2021  •  PA Photos/Getty Images

Emma Thompson apparently keeps her Oscar in the downstairs loo. Robinson, you suspect, might end up hiding his ESPNcricinfo glitterball in the doghouse. For our debutant of the year probably doesn't want to have to recall the events of his actual debut too readily - for all that his seven wickets and 42 runs against New Zealand in June were proof that his methods were to the Test manner born.
It was midway through his first day of England action at Lord's that details started circulating on Twitter of offensive comments that Robinson had posted almost a decade earlier - and such was the public nature of his shaming that he was pretty much the last person to be alerted to the furore, as he settled obliviously into his England career with the maiden Test wicket of Tom Latham.
For English cricket as a whole, the saga that followed was a prologue for the wider crisis that would engulf the sport in the form of the Azeem Rafiq affair, but after being served with a suspension that took in the second New Zealand Test, at Headingley, Robinson was entitled to wonder if he'd ever get the chance to redeem himself.
And yet, it was a testament to his skilfully simple methods that Robinson not only returned for the Test series against India but performed with such self-assurance that his starting berth for the Ashes tour was all but guaranteed by the time he'd picked up a maiden five-for in the drawn first Test, at Trent Bridge.
With an easy approach to the wicket, and a sky-snagging point of delivery that has been measured as the third-highest in contemporary Test cricket, behind those of Kyle Jamieson and Jason Holder, Robinson has been frequently compared to Angus Fraser, arguably the last English-style medium-pacer to translate his methods to Australia's rock-hard wickets. And though his year ended under another cloud, amid some pointed comments about his fitness, none of the top-three-ranked teams that he has faced to date has consistently got his measure.

Key moment

His personal comeback against India was one thing, but his role in his team's comeback against the same opponents was pivotal. After a bruising loss in the second Test, at Lord's, England bossed India at Headingley, bowling them out for 78 on the first morning. There was more resistance second time out, as Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli reached 215 for 2 at the close of day three. But Robinson rumbled in to bag both the following morning, eventually claiming 5 for 65 in a thumping innings win.

The numbers

0 The number of times Robinson went wicketless in the course of his eight Tests in 2021. He picked up at least one wicket in all but one of his 15 innings, the exception coming in India's rain-ruined chase at Trent Bridge, when he bowled just four overs.
19.60 Robinson's average after five home Tests, in which he has picked off 28 wickets at a strike rate of 44.6 and an economy rate of 2.63. Despite England's hardships in Australia, Robinson's nine wickets in the first three Ashes Tests last year came at 26 and a similarly frugal economy of 2.67.
6 The number of top-order batters that Robinson dismissed at least twice last year - a measure of his ability to trouble the best. Rishabh Pant, on four occasions, has fallen to him most often, while Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma both succumbed three times.

What they said

"He understand his skills really well. He swings the ball both ways and he's very consistent; especially in these [England] conditions. He is a real find for them."
- Virat Kohli to the BBC
"It's been phenomenal to watch him perform as he has ... He's shown what he is capable of doing and long may that continue."
- Joe Root

The closest contenders

Charith Asalanka
A bottom-handed bomber of a batter, Asalanka confirmed his rich promise in the main draw of the T20 World Cup, cracking 225 runs at a strike rate of 153.06, the best among those with more than 200 runs in the tournament. His unbeaten 80 from 49, chasing 172 against Bangladesh, transformed a chase that had been faltering at 79 for 4 in the tenth over.
Pathum Nissanka
A century on Test debut in Antigua set Nissanka up for an impressive maiden year in Sri Lanka's ranks. A technically sound right-hander, he averaged in the mid-60s in first-class cricket, and has been described by his former national coach Mickey Arthur as "kind of a different beast".

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket