Yorkshire CCC axe proved blessing in disguise for Ollie Robinson

THERE were rumours of poor timekeeping, silly misdemeanours and even turning up to play at the wrong ground.
Test hope: Sussex's Ollie Robinson.Test hope: Sussex's Ollie Robinson.
Test hope: Sussex's Ollie Robinson.

Yorkshire took no pleasure in their decision to sack Ollie Robinson in 2014, and they could not be happier that the pace bowler has turned himself around to stand on the brink of making his England Test debut.

Martyn Moxon, the Yorkshire director of cricket, who stated at the time that he and his support staff had “had enough” of Robinson’s “unprofessional actions”, said that he would be thrilled to see the 27-year-old make his Test debut against New Zealand at Lord’s.

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Robinson was sacked for three undisclosed serious breaches of discipline at Yorkshire over a nine-month period, along with a string of lesser offences, which left Moxon bemoaning the loss of a player he had identified as having the potential to become “a very good cricketer”.

Martyn Moxon: Pleased for Ollie Robinson.Martyn Moxon: Pleased for Ollie Robinson.
Martyn Moxon: Pleased for Ollie Robinson.

That potential has since been realised, Robinson taking 279 first-class wickets at 21.04 and scoring 1,667 runs at 22.22 having found a new lease of life at Sussex under, ironically, one of the coaches at Yorkshire who had tired of his conduct – Jason Gillespie.

A combination of the Australian’s man-management skills during his time as Sussex head coach, along with the penny finally dropping between Robinson’s ears, triggered a transformation that has seen the 6ft 5in right-armer become one of the hottest properties in the English game.

“I’m delighted for Ollie,” said Moxon. “Certainly when we gave him a chance at Yorkshire we saw the potential in him.

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“I remember a second team game at Merchant Taylors’ School when Paul Farbrace (Robinson’s step-father) was our second-team coach, and Ollie was bowling and I said to Farby, ‘This lad’s got pace.’

Second chance: Jason Gillespie took Robinson to Sussex.Second chance: Jason Gillespie took Robinson to Sussex.
Second chance: Jason Gillespie took Robinson to Sussex.

“We saw the talent there right from the start, and it was disappointing when we had to let him go.”

Yorkshire gave the player repeated warnings. He was then only 20 years old and, like many a young man before and since, had plenty of growing up to do in life, never mind in cricket.

“It was that immaturity, if you like,” said Moxon, “not understanding what he needed to do to be a professional cricketer, even though we had pretty simple rules really – get there on time and do your training, etcetera, etcetera, and just be a good pro basically.

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“At the time, I don’t think he was ready to do that and to make that day-in, day-out commitment, but clearly now he’s fulfilling his potential and it’s great to see.

“Ollie is older now, he’s matured and he’s realised what being a professional cricketer involves, so fair play to him.

“People mature at different ages and the penny drops at different ages, and he was obviously given another opportunity (at Sussex) and that’s what it’s all about, going somewhere else and realising that you’re missing out on something and that you need to get your act together to give yourself the best chance, which is exactly what he’s done.”

Born in Margate and educated in Canterbury, Robinson came up through the Kent system before a spell with Leicestershire second XI in the first part of 2013.

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He played second-team cricket for Yorkshire later that year and went on to make 10 first-team appearances for the club in white-ball cricket before Yorkshire gave him his marching orders.

Robinson has since described his sacking as “a blessing in disguise” as it gave him the proverbial kick up the backside, while it is said that fatherhood has also changed him for the better.

So stark has been the change in his attitude and professionalism that Gillespie recently described the player as “comfortably the most researched and well-prepared fast bowler I have come across in professional cricket”, not so much a ringing endorsement as a deafening one.

“He was actually kind of a batter who bowled when we first looked at him,” recalled Moxon.

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“It was bizarre how it happened. Paul Farbrace was on our coaching staff back then and his then partner and now wife, Sandra, who is Ollie’s mum, came out with Ollie on our pre-season tour to Barbados effectively on holiday.

“Ollie brought his stuff and helped out around the nets, and it kind of stemmed from there really.

“I thought ‘Oh, he’s got a bit of something, this kid’, and he played second XI for us and the rest is history. That’s pretty much how it all came about.”

If Robinson does debut at Lord’s, where he would come up against his former Yorkshire team-mate Kane Williamson, the New Zealand captain and the world’s No 1-ranked Test batsman, Moxon will be especially pleased for the family.

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“We were very friendly with Sandra and Farby and I’ll be delighted for them, particularly his mum,” he said.

“She will be a very proud woman if Ollie does make his debut, that’s for sure.”

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