Already billed by Nasser Hussain as the ‘one to watch’ in 2021, Ollie Robinson is mounting a compelling case to play Test cricket this English summer, and beyond with the Ashes on the horizon.
The 27-year-old’s career trajectory has spiked sharply in recent years to the point that he looks like a potential heir to James Anderson’s throne.
Anderson is 39 and said to be in the shape of his life, but his workload is heavily managed these days, which has Robinson edging closer to a Test debut as the Ashes rapidly approaches.
The seamer has already come close to a cap, having been called up to England’s Test bubble over the past year, although he’s yet to break into the XI.
Based on his scary form, that could soon change.
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In just three matches this County Championship, the Sussex bowler has snared 20 wickets at a stunning average of 14.35, and low strike rate of 30.9.
His haul includes ridiculous figures against Glamorgan of 9-78, which gave him 13-128 for the match, while he claimed 2-17 and 3-73 the following week against Yorkshire.
Those numbers are on top of the 159 first-class wickets at 17.6 he had claimed since the start of 2018.
Former England player and commentator David Lloyd said he expects Robinson to be deployed in a Test series against New Zealand in June, which will double as an Ashes audition.
“We’ve been talking about him for a while on Sky but the interesting thing is that the England players talk about him as well,” Lloyd wrote for Sky Sports.
“He reminds me of Angus Fraser, a big strapping, strong lad, hits an awkward length, gets a bit of bounce, not that quick but accurate. He will play Test match cricket this summer.”
Robinson — who has plenty of experience in Australia in the form of three grade cricket stints — is considered a metronomic figure who looked to Glenn McGrath for inspiration.
He’s not fast, but knows where to put the ball — and how to do so consistently.
“I’ve always looked at Glenn McGrath,” he told The Cricketer last year.
“Over the last five years of his career, he didn’t bowl express pace, but he just didn’t miss.
“Wherever you are in the world, no matter what pace you are, if you don’t miss the top of off and can move it both ways a little bit, you’re going to be successful, I think.”
Before the start of the season, Hussain gave Robinson his seal of approval, saying his stats are “phenomenal”.
“Is he quick enough? I reckon he is and, with an Ashes tour coming up, I think he’ll be looking to get into that England side – because his stats and wicket-taking potential in county cricket has been phenomenal,” Hussain said on The Cricket Show.
In terms of sheer mystery and excitement, Matt Parkinson could be exactly the smokey England needs to lead its spin assault in Australia.
Last Ashes in Australia was a sorry affair for English spin bowling; Moeen Ali was the frontline spinner and managed just five wickets at 115 across his 170 overs. Joe Root’s part-time spin accounted for two wickets, while Mason Crane — who played his first and only Test in Sydney — took one.
England has since cycled through a number of tweakers without any sustained success, from Ali, to Dom Bess, Adil Rashid and Jack Leach.
But Parkinson has this season given the nation reason to be excited about the craft of spin again.
The 24-year-old’s highlight reel this season is brilliant; movement in the air, fizz off the deck, ripping leg-breaks out the rough and a handy wrong’un all feature.
In terms of sheer numbers, the Lancashire player is leading the way for spinners in the County Championship this season.
He has 18 wickets at 17.72, which includes a seven-wicket haul against Kent last month. Those wickets take his first-class career tally to 80 at 23.53.
Parkinson initially rose to prominence in the white ball game — he’s played two ODIs and two T20Is — but is now making waves with the red ball.
“We’ve had four matches in April and you wouldn’t think that spin bowlers would get a look in but Matt Parkinson has done excellently for Lancashire,” Lloyd wrote.
“That’s great for him going forward, not only getting a game in these seamer-friendly conditions but performing well. That’s a real plus.”
Like Robinson, Parkinson has experience in Australia, where he played grade cricket for Gordon, while he signed a contract with the Melbourne Stars for the 2018-19 BBL season.
In Australia he was tutored by former Test spinner Stuart MacGill as part of England’s pathways program.
If England has struggled finding a consistent spinner in recent years, then the same could be said for its pursuit of a steady opening combination.
Since the end of the 2017-18 Ashes, England has deployed 11 openers across nine different first-wicket partnerships.
The only batsman to average more than 35 since is Jack Leach, who did so thanks to the 93 he scored as nightwatchman.
That’s where 24-year-old Haseeb Hameed could come back in.
The Nottinghamshire opener has 401 runs at 57.28 this season with two centuries, and two fifties already to his name.
His Test debut in 2016 as a 19-year-old was always on the cards for the teenage prodigy, who made 31 and 82 in his first match.
The drastic drop-off in form, broken fingers, and subsequent four-and-a-half-year international hiatus that has followed, was not.
But Hameed is showing signs that he’s ready for a second coming after gaining a fresh start at Nottinghamshire.
“You hope that Haseeb Hameed has now turned the corner,” Lloyd wrote for Sky Sports. “He moved counties … whether that was the right thing to do I don’t know but he seems to be settled in his own form and that is so important.”
He added: “His target now is to continue to score runs, to score centuries, and to have a target of an Ashes place. Anything else along the way is a bonus.”
Hameed said being released by Lancashire hurt, but it has allowed him to find something special within.
“There were some real tough moments – breaking a second finger in nine months was hard, my third surgery all requiring six weeks of rehab, and then the following season to have the season I did averaging nine was extremely tough,” he told The Guardian.
“Being let go by my home club was tough. But in those tough moments I have been lucky to find something deep inside me that doesn’t let me give up and urges me to try one more time.”
Not exactly an unknown quantity on the international scene anymore, but Australia hasn’t had a crack at Ollie Pope as yet.
The highly rated 23-year-old has 17 Tests under his belt, but those appearances came either side of the 2019 Ashes.
He scored an unbeaten century against South Africa in January 2020 but has otherwise struggled to cement his spot in England’s XI, with no other centuries, and five fifties in his 28 Test innings.
The 2021 English summer has, however, started well for the Surrey batsman, who has already made two centuries on his way to 452 runs at 75.22 in four matches.
Pope has a home away from home in Sydney’s southwest, where he played for Campbelltown Ghosts in 2017-18.
He could be due for a revisit should he continue to impress, particularly in the Test series against New Zealand.
Also worth mentioning is the stunning form of Adam Lyth in the twilight of his career.
The 33-year-old represents an intriguing opening option for England after he plundered 515 runs at 73.57 in the first four matches of the season.
That puts him on-track to break the 1,000-run barrier before the end of May — a feat only ever achieved nine times in an English season, and not once since Graeme Hick in 1988.
Lyth has played seven Tests — all in the summer of 2015 — and, unlike anyone else in this list, has featured in an Ashes series. He played all five Tests in 2015 but made just 115 runs at 12.77.
Six years have nearly passed and England’s opening situation is still murky.
What a stunning international career revival it would be for Lyth if England chose to turn back to him this summer.
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