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Battle-hardened Ollie Robinson hopes to 'unsettle' Australia after stop-start build-up

Seamer hopes lessons of 2019-20 Lions tour will serve him well in maiden Ashes series

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
As a 13-year-old in 2006-07, Ollie Robinson bunked off a week of school to spend Christmas out in Australia and watch Andrew Flintoff's team get crushed in three of the five Tests of that winter's Ashes whitewash. He's back 15 years later with rather more uplifting recent memories of life Down Under, after his starring role in England Lions' victory over Australia A two winters ago, a performance which he hopes can help him continue an impressive start to his Test career.
Memories are all that any of England's players have got to fall back on ahead of the Brisbane Test on Wednesday, after an extraordinary build-up - dominated on the one hand by their quarantine period on the Gold Coast, and by torrential rain on the other, as their intended seven days of intra-squad practice were reduced to two and a bit of glorified nets.
And yet, Robinson believes his 12 wicketless overs on the penultimate day of that warm-up period will stand him in good enough stead for the Gabba, and better even than their Australian opponents, who have yet to have any meaningful red-ball cricket since their white-ball players returned from victory in the T20 World Cup last month.
"It's obviously not ideal preparation but, as a group, we feel we've made do with what we've been given," Robinson said. "We feel in a good place, and we feel ahead of the Aussies which is the main thing. They were at the World Cup and in quarantine so they are probably a few weeks behind us. We feel like we have some good work in us since being here and hopefully that will give us the edge in the first Test."
Though he is still a rookie in international terms - and certainly compared to his senior seam partners, James Anderson and Stuart Broad - Robinson nevertheless turned 28 at the start of the month, and believes he's long enough in the tooth to know his own game in spite of the limited preparation time.
"It's changed as I've got older," he said. "I've learnt about my body and that I can get bowling ready in different ways. I've done a lot more running here than bowling outdoors just because of the weather, and I feel like I've learnt a bit more about how to get ready, really. I've taken note from Jimmy and Broady, they have done a lot of Test series and situations like this. I've done it differently this time but I feel ready to take it on."
Although England's original bowling plans for the Ashes have had to be scrapped due to the absence of prospective pace spearheads such as Jofra Archer and Olly Stone, Robinson has long seemed assured of a starting berth at the Gabba - both due to the excellence of his maiden summer in England colours, in which he claimed 28 wickets at 19.60 in five Tests against New Zealand and India, and due to his seven-wicket showing in the unofficial Test win over Australia A at Melbourne in March 2020.
"It's massive," he said. "I didn't think at one stage I was going to be playing for England again. So it's been quite a rollercoaster over the last six to eight months, and to be here with the team, it's quite an emotional time for me. To hopefully play the first Test is going to be huge for me and a massive achievement, and something that I'll never forget.
"I don't feel as though [last summer] took a huge amount out of me," he added. "It was obviously a tough series but I felt mentally fresh and, physically, it probably took me a week to get back to normal after the series, once the emotions died down. I felt like I could go again quite soon. Hopefully that's a positive to take from that. Look at Jimmy and Broady: they've done it for years and years, and they have to be physically and mentally capable and fit to do that, so it makes me feel like I am in a better place after the summer and what I experienced."
Robinson's two stints in Australian grade cricket, alongside Josh Hazlewood and Trent Copeland for Sydney and St George, have also helped to hone him as a bowler, while more recently he has been picking the brains of Troy Cooley, the former England and Australia bowling coach, who has been recruited by the ECB as a consultant for this opening portion of the tour.
"When I came my second time at St George I really spoke to them [Hazlewood and Copeland] in depth about how they bowled in Australia," he said. "I was actually a professional cricketer the second time out. So I knew that I was trying to make it at a higher level and any information they could give me would help. Hopefully it helps me with the Test series."
One area, however, where he believes he will need no Australian instruction is in the matter of on-field verbals. "The Aussie chat is pretty horrendous if I'm honest, so not really," he said. "I don't think me as a person could keep my head down if I tried. I'm definitely going to be trying to get under their skins and try and unsettle them as it were, batters and bowlers really.
"If I can get them off their rhythm then we're winning, so it's something you'll definitely see and hopefully we will come out on top."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket