Twenty-four hours after receiving his English cap, Ollie Robinson began the second phase of his testing career. The first, consisting entirely of Wednesday, had been the best day and the worst day. What he needed was stability.
Robinson will always be the man whose Test debut was marred by the discovery of racist and sexist tweets from his teenage past. The question was whether he would also be the man to put the nightmare behind him quickly enough to have an impact on the rest of the game.
It was not a matter of redemption. Idiotic tweets inhabit a different atmosphere than Test wickets. A five for would not have instantly made up for a comment about Muslims and bombs, any more than admitting a five more would not have confirmed him as an unjust.
Ollie Robinson showed resilience to make a positive impact on Day 2 against New Zealand
But it was a test of resilience, in a very modern, news rolling fashion. Robinson’s challenge on the second day was to make it harder for the selectors to let him out, regardless of whether his short-term fate is a ban.
What he couldn’t afford was following crass tweets from nine years old on his cell phone with a pile of dirt in the middle. He couldn’t make up for the tweets. But he could invite more shame.
When Robinson came bowling shortly before 11:30 a.m., replacing Jimmy Anderson at the Nursery End, he was greeted with a little applause (fines at sporting events these days are reserved for those who get on their knees). But his first contribution to England’s cause came moments later, when he pulled off a well-judged long-legged catch when Henry Nicholls put a shot to the head of Mark Wood.
The English debutant was marred by the discovery of historical sexist and racist tweets
The 27-year-old’s actions cannot be undone, but he had to respond with a strong display
It would have been a bad thing to fall, although a mistake would have been understandable in the circumstances. For Robinson, it must have felt like a little box had been ticked, a moment when his test debut didn’t get markedly worse.
Wood quickly removed BJ Watling, compiler of a double century against England at Mount Maunganui in late 2019, before Robinson kept Colin de Grandhomme going with the help of the DRS. It was the kind of layoff that made its name in county cricket near Sussex: good length, a little pinch, a big cover.
When Mitchell Santner fell tame to Wood, New Zealand had dropped from 288 for three to 294 for seven – all without much contribution from Jimmy Anderson or Stuart Broad. After lunch, when Robinson bounced Kyle Jamieson, he returned to the long-legged fence opposite to a warm ovation.
A school of social media on Wednesday night was that he didn’t deserve to be butchered for old tweets, no matter how ugly. Was the applause from the audience in a corner of the Mound Stand a nod in that direction?
Robinson took four wickets from New Zealand’s first innings and should have gone five-for
Anyway, Robinson – with first day wickets from Tom Latham and Ross Taylor already in the bag – was now on the cusp of a five-for on Test debut, a place on the board, and thus the kind of cricket immortality what Lord’s specializes in. He would have made it too if Broad, diving halfway to the right, had had a catchy shot at Tim Southee.
Instead, Joe Root turned to his senior bowlers as England made a hash of taking New Zealand’s last wicket, and Robinson walked away with numbers of 28-6-75-4, taking his first-class catch for the summer to 33 wickets at 15. a piece. Together, Anderson and Broad had two for 162.
If cricket were the only criterion by which history will judge Robinson’s debut, he would have been off to a good start.
Robinson showed he could respond to the hell he made himself with a show of steel
But for now, everything he does on the pitch feels like an interlude between those tweets and the judgment they will provoke from the ECB.
Root will have noticed one thing, though. It was he who, along with head coach Chris Silverwood and the team’s media liaison officer, delivered the bad news to Robinson after the game ended on Wednesday, seeing a player descend from clouds nine to solid ground in seconds.
But after leading a longer-than-normal conversation before the game on Thursday as England tried to get the situation under control, the captain also saw his debutant react to a steel-steel hellscape he created.
Test captains prefer to judge cricket over morality, and Robinson had lent him a hand. Frankly, that was the least he could do.