Tim Robinson had a phenomenal start to his Test career, as he played a starring role in England’s 1984/85 series win in India and then in the 1985 Ashes. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1986.
For years English cricket followers watched jealously as other countries produced batsmen from nowhere, fully cooked and ready to play major Test innings, while England players had to marinate for years before they could match them. Then came Robert Timothy Robinson, for whom everything went right from the moment he was chosen for the Indian tour in September 1984 until he got married in November 1985. And one trusts he lives happily ever after as well.
In his first eleven Test matches, against India and Australia, Robinson scored 934 runs at an average of 62.26, statistics which, a pedant might have argued, made him the best batsman of all time besides Bradman. No sane person believed that, least of all a down-to-earth fellow like Robinson; the greatest trial, against West Indies, was still to come. Beyond dispute though, England have unearthed an opening bat of surprising ability, with a beautiful big-match temperament, whose advent played a major part in the team’s revival after the disasters of 1984.
Robinson’s triumphs included three major centuries: 160 at Delhi, 175 at Headingley and 148 at Edgbaston. On top of that he was the best supporting actor in the great Gatting-Fowler show at Madras: and if he had a few cheap runs when the awful Trent Bridge Test was at the embalmers, they were cancelled out by a widespread suspicion that, on debut at Bombay, he was victim of the umpires’ double – caught missing and lbw hitting.
In a sense, Robinson began the England resurgence. His innings at Delhi set up the win that ended the thirteen-match blank sequence. But for people at home that was barely more than a long-distance rumour. Acceptance came only when he made a spectacular impact on his first home Test at Headingley. As Robinson walked out to bat there, his eye was caught by a banner reading: Where is Geoff Boycott? When he was finally out, applauded to the pavilion by 20,000 Yorkshire converts after one of the great English Test Saturdays, and patted on the head by Botham, who had briefly overshadowed him, he was told he had a visitor. “I didn’t know what to say or what to call him,” Robinson recalled later. “Geoffrey or Mr Boycott. I’d never spoken to him before except to say good morning. He just wanted to say congratulations, and that meant a lot to me.”
For Robinson, Boycott has always been the model. At Rajkot, when he scored the century in a drab game against West Zone that ensured his Test place, there was a point where he had already done enough and the cool of the pavilion began to seem overwhelmingly inviting. Robinson just began muttering to himself: “I mustn’t get out now. Boycott wouldn’t get out now.” The Boycott influence goes back a long way. Between the ages of five and ten – he was born on November 21, 1958 – just as Geoffrey’s every move was becoming a local obsession, Robinson lived near Sheffield. He went back there to university, and his wife is a Rotherham girl. He realised he might be winning when her family started looking for his score before Boycott’s.
You can see evidence, too, in the bottom-handed square driving – but Robinson has learned to play long innings without making enemies, without forgetting cricket is a team game or subordinating run-getting to crease-occupation. “If I see a ball I hit it,” he says. “If it is the first ball of a Test match, so be it.” The master’s mantle may not fit him perfectly yet, but it has certainly been to the dry cleaners.
It has taken a while for Robinson to grow into it. He was both precocious and a slow starter, having turned down Nottinghamshire at eighteen to do a degree in accountancy and financial management. The family are purest Nottinghamshire, from Sutton-in-Ashfield, and mostly colliers; the divisions caused by the miners’ strike hit close to home. But Robinson’s father escaped the pits and went into computing. After the Sheffield interlude, he moved to Dunstable, and his teenage son’s serious cricket began there: first for the grammar school and then for the local club, who advertised for players to start a colts’ team and got 50 replies. The applicants had to queue up and tell the coach, Pat Feakes, what they did. Robinson, having heard nearly all the others say they were batsmen, thought he had better fib. Fortunately, the club quickly cottoned on.
So did the nearest county, Northamptonshire. Their coach, Brian Reynolds, had Robinson in for a trial at sixteen and he went straight into the second team. But his mother had never liked the south and the Robinson went back to Nottingham, where Frank Woodhead, the Trent Bridge coach, stepped in. In 1978, while still an undergraduate, Robinson made the first team.
His progress thereafter was not entirely serene. Nottinghamshire knew he had ability, but he did not make enough runs and those he did score mostly came on the leg side. By 1982 some thought he was going backwards. Robinson worked on his technique by borrowing the raised-bat stance from his captain, Clive Rice, which he is convinced helps keep him sideways-on. The off-side runs started flowing: in 1983 he passed 1,500 runs and won his county cap; in 1984 he scored 2,000 and made the tour.
Against the West Indians in 1984, Robinson’s Nottinghamshire opening partner, Chris Broad, was chosen ahead of him, despite a steady undercurrent from Trent Bridge that the selectors had picked the wrong man. Broad was unlucky not to tour, having had to face the fire; but the doubts at Trent Bridge largely concerned Robinson’s ability against top-class spin, not pace. His ability to deal with both is helped by his obvious level-headedness. When he saw videos of himself batting against Australia in the one-day internationals, he was not so much taken by the sight of himself on telly as distressed by signs that he was getting out of position on the front foot. He immediately got his pal Eddie Hemmings to help him sort out the problem in the nets.
He is determined to go on that way. One of his main satisfactions in 1985 was that he kept making runs for Nottinghamshire in between Tests. But he enjoys being famous: “It’s still a great thrill for a stranger to come up and say ‘Well done’. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored with that.” After all the blase superstars of recent years, Robinson is a tonic. Over the years to come the congratulations might well become just a little more routine.
Tim Robinson couldn’t quite replicate his early heroics in the next few years, and played his last Test in 1989, finishing with 1,601 runs at 36.38. He, however, remained a strong force for Nottinghamshire through the Nineties, before taking up umpiring later.