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Ollie Robinson 'considered retirement' in midst of injury-plagued English summer

Fast bowler in form and fitness of his life after playing starring role in England's series win

Ollie Robinson dismissed Babar Azam for the second time in the match, Pakistan vs England, 2nd Test, Multan, 3rd day, December 11, 2022

Ollie Robinson became the first player to bowl Babar Azam twice in a single Test match  •  Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Two Tests against Pakistan down with one to go, with a series win secured and history made, Ollie Robinson is in a good place.
He might "only" have eight wickets in his four innings to date, but they have come at an average of 18.37, to reduce his overall Test figure to 19.61 after 13 appearances, and have showcased his impressive dexterity. He has dabbled in bouncers and reverse-swing, along with his usual unerring accuracy with the new ball, and in the second Test at Multan, he became the first seamer to bowl Pakistan's captain and batting phenomenon Babar Azam twice in a match. Most heartening of all, his 62.1 overs have been of a base level intensity that has not let batters off the hook.
Heartening because Robinson has revealed he considered retirement in the summer, after constant bumps in the road on a long journey to his return to action.
After having his conditioning called into question at the end of a humbling tour of Australia last winter, back issues meant that Robinson was unable to play any part in the three-Test tour of the Caribbean that followed. Complications followed at the start of the 2022 summer: further back troubles and a dental issue saw him miss a chunk of cricket with Sussex, as well as the first four Tests under the new leadership duo of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum.
In light of the comments about his lack of fitness, Robinson's subsequent setbacks triggered something of a pile-on from those who assumed that a lack of work ethic was the reason for his continued absences. In reality, Robinson believes that those ailments were nothing more than unfortunate timing for a cricketer still only 28, and attempting to return fitter than ever before. Speaking on Thursday in Karachi ahead of the third Test which begins on Saturday, Robinson opened up about a dark time which had him wondering about leaving the game altogether, with a vague idea of moving into property.
"There were points when I didn't think I was going to play for England again, or play cricket again," Robinson told BBC Sport. "I kept coming back to full fitness, then getting an injury or illness, then another injury. There was a point in June time when I thought 'I might have to look at what else I can do here, I don't think I'm going to be able to carry on playing cricket'. It's been tough and there has been some dark days, but tours and series wins like this make it all worthwhile."
"It's a massive confidence-booster for myself," he said of the Pakistan series, on pitches that have seemed unhelpful to quick bowlers, and yet England's have taken 23 of the 40 wickets available so far. "Twelve months ago I was struggling to even get on the park. It's a really proud tour for me, in the fact my body has got through it, I've bowled well and I've proved to the world, almost, I can do it in any conditions. Not just for the team, but for myself. It's been a really good tour so far and hopefully we can win 3-0 this week."
The nature of Robinson's back issues were particularly grating, and for a time they showed no signs of abating even while he was focussing on the rehabilitation and reinforcement of his body. The root of the problem proved hard to establish, in part because the spasms would come and go, ultimately at random but frustratingly just when it seemed he was on the verge of making a return to competitive action.
"I had different types of scans. MRIs, X-rays. It was just a bit of wear and tear," he said. "Because there was so much inflammation, every time I got back to full fitness, the inflammation was there. It was jarring again and giving me another back spasm. I ended up having five injections, which took the inflammation away and allowed me to train a bit harder. Then it settled down. It was a strange one, because I felt it was career-ending, the way it felt.
"Things can change so quickly. When you're in those dark spaces it's hard to see through that. When you get to this time, and if it ever happens again in the future, I know I can come out the other sides of it, still fighting, still bowling well."
He feels he is lucky to get out the other end. And so are England. Robinson returned to the Test side for the second match of the series against South Africa at Emirates Old Trafford and, not only has the team won all four matches since, but Robinson has contributed 20 dismissals at 16.35. He went past 50 Test wickets in his 11th Test - the joint-fastest by an England bowler since Ian Botham in 1978 - and, at the age of 29, there is a very real sense he is in it for the long haul as a new-ball bowler for his country.
In the absence of Stuart Broad, who sat out the trip following the birth of his first child, the manner in which Robinson has dovetailed with Anderson has been vital to England's approach. His skills have not been dulled with an older ball in hand, and he has been able to work to unconventional plans, including hitting the pitch on a slightly shorter length, and utilising the skid available from the surfaces to hit the top of off stump.
It should be said, none of that application of fine-tuned skill is a coincidence. it is merely the reward for a change of lifestyle based on those around him.
"I've changed my gym sessions, I've changed my training. I've upped the intensity of my training," he said. "You only have to look at Stokesy, when he trains, to look at how intense some people train. I've tried to get as near that as possible. Jimmy has played for 20 years now. He's a great role-model for me and someone I look up to."
Test cricket has thrown up a myriad of challenges for Robinson, even if his on-field exploits have been impressive. His debut against New Zealand was tumultuous when historic offensive tweets emerged hours after he was presented with his maiden cap at Lord's at the start of the 2021 season.
Now, his focus is on closing out 2022 with another win to seal England's second clean sweep in Asia, after beating Sri Lanka 3-0 in 2018.
"It's an exciting time for English cricket. We've done 2-0 and if we can do 3-0 it will be an amazing effort. The boys are prepared for one, last big push to get the 3-0 whitewash."

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo