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India v England 2024

‘There’s no number one villain’ – Ryan Sidebottom ‘upset’ by criticism of Ollie Robinson

England fast bowler Ollie Robinson, with Ryan Sidebottom inset
by Wisden Staff 3 minute read

Ryan Sidebottom has defended Ollie Robinson after he came in for criticism for his lacklustre performance in the fourth India-England Test at Ranchi.

While Ollie Robinson hit a valuable half-century in the first innings, he bowled only 13 overs in the game, with his pace noticeably down. He dropped a key chance on the third morning with Dhruv Jurel in the midst of a game-changing knock, and was not used in India’s second innings, with the hosts chasing 192 with five wickets in hand to seal a series win.

In the aftermath, Robinson has come in for significant criticism, with speculation across the English press that his Test future could be in doubt. His work ethic has been questioned, with former England captain Michael Atherton writing in the Times that “his performance at Ranchi was not that of a man keen to make the most of what’s left of his career”.

Speaking to the media in India, England coach Brendon McCullum explained that a back niggle sustained while batting contributed to Robinson’s lack of pace: “He actually twinged his back while batting in the first innings, which is why in those initial couple of spells, he was down on pace. We saw the following day when his back improved a little bit his pace got up to where it normally is.”

Robinson’s last Test appearance was also curtailed by a back complaint, with spasms limiting his involvement against Australia at Headingley in the Ashes in July. McCullum conceded the gap between appearances may have affected the England seamer.

“I don’t think it was too soon, it was seven months since his last Test so if anything, it’s probably too long between,” said McCullum. “Everything he did leading into the Test match suggested we’d see not just the Ollie Robinson we’d seen previously but a better version of it.

“For one reason or another it didn’t quite work out for him and obviously he’s not just as disappointed as everyone else, he’s the most disappointed out of everyone.”

Sidebottom, speaking on the Vaughany and Tuffers Cricket Podcast, hit back at Robinson being labelled “the number one villain” in England’s defeat, and suggested a lack of game time was at the root of his issues. Robinson’s last Test appearance was his last appearance in all cricket, with a finger injury hampering him at the end of the 2023 summer and no warm-up matches scheduled for this series. England Lions played a first-class series against India A alongside the first two senior Tests, but Robinson was not involved.

“I was not disappointed, but I was quite upset by the numerous comments about his bowling and him being out of form,” Sidebottom said. “There’s no number one villain in any team if someone’s not performed how they should.

“For me, you can bowl in the nets all you want. It doesn’t matter. You need to play games. You need time in the middle, as a batter, as a bowler, you need to get some overs under your belt. Just to thrust him in when he’s been carrying drinks and probably doing lots of fitness to then go into a very high-pressure situation, England needing to win, to then put the onus on him.

“He needs time, he needs to bowl, he’s definitely the type of bowler that needs to get into a rhythm and feel good, and have the ball in his hand for numerous overs to… to feel good about himself. You look at his record, it’s fantastic, isn’t it?”

From 20 Test matches, Robinson has taken 76 wickets at 22.92 apiece. In the last 60 years, no England bowler has taken as many wickets at a better average.

While Sidebottom did concede Robinson could improve his body language, he reiterated that bowling in the nets was not by itself adequate preparation for a Test match: “I would just say, Robinson sometimes… maybe I’d like to see his body language a little bit better. He’s in a such a fortunate position. Go out there and play with a smile on your face. Give it everything. And sometimes it looks a bit like he’s disinterested. And I kind of understand where people are coming from with that. But he needs to bowl.

“It’s immensely tough. Also when you’re in the net situation, the intensity levels, however much you want to try and replicate that, is never going to be at Test-match level. And also, like you say, you have to come back and bowl important overs at difficult times and you don’t do that in net sessions.”

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