Obituary: Ellis Robinson

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The Independent Culture
ELLIS ROBINSON was the last link with Yorkshire County Cricket Club's near-invincibles of the 1930s.

He had a strong frame, sufficient height to win bounce, and long fingers imparting sharp spin. Were he a 25-year-old off-break bowler today he would probably be first-choice spinner for England; in fact he never played in a Test match, losing his best years to the Second World War.

He was also a more than useful left-handed batsman and a brilliant close field, taking 266 first-class catches, some of them sensational.

His Christian names, Ellis Pembroke, derived from his mother, a cockney housemaid who served a Cambridgeshire family called Ellis Pembroke Merry. "My mum had played cricket on Parker's Piece, where Jack Hobbs had played, and I can't remember when I didn't play the game," he told Nigel Pullan in an interview in 1994.

As he was born in Denaby, Robinson's Yorkshire qualification was never in doubt and it was from the local club that he was sent to Bramall Lane, Sheffield, for George Hirst to cast an eye upon a promising wicketkeeper batsman. "There was no room to keep wicket so, anxious to impress Mr Hirst, I bowled a few quick leg-breaks and googlies."

He must have registered with Hirst for, when invited to the winter shed at Headingley he was told to forget his leg-breaks - there would be no room in the team with Hedley Verity starting his reign - and concentrate on bowling off-breaks, as George Macaulay was coming close to the end of his career.

Robinson made his Yorkshire debut at Worcester in 1934, taking 4-31 and watching the 18-year-old Len Hutton reach 196, his first century. Not until 1937, when he took 78 wickets at an average of 22, could Robinson consider himself a first-team player; he followed with 104 wickets in 1938, then 120 before spending six years in the RAF.

He was given a Test trial in 1946 (149 wickets) and believed he should have been included in Wally Hammond's team to Australia that following winter: "I turned the ball more than most off-spinners [he spent much of his career bowling round the wicket] and I think I would have been effective in Australia." Ian Johnson, Australia's premier off-spinner, sought Robinson's advice when touring England in 1948.

As a batsman, following a strong order, Robinson's normal brief was to score quickly. He lifted Claude Lewis, a Kent left-arm spinner (and later county scorer), on to and over the roof of the football stand at Headingley, put Dick Howarth (Worcestershire) out of Park Avenue, Bradford and into Horton Park, and Johnny Clay (Glamorgan) out of the Arms Park, Cardiff.

He usually fielded at first slip with the dour Arthur Mitchell alongside, a partnership that produced a story that will live with Robinson's memory. Before a packed crowd at Headingley, he took a one-handed catch that involved a leap, a dive and ended with a double somersault. As Robinson struggled to his feet, grinning and holding the ball high, the ground rose, only for Mitchell - "grim as a piece of stone from Baildon Moor" according to Herbert Sutcliffe - to mutter from the side of his mouth: "Gerrup. Tha's makkin' an exhibition o' thissen."

Robinson spent most of his playing career under the autocratic and aggressive Brian Sellers, who won six championships in eight seasons. "I got a rollicking in my first match for putting my foot on the ball. In my first season, my spinning finger was so worn it was bleeding but Mr Sellers said I had to keep going and bowled me into the wind all day." (In that match, bowling at Bristol, Robinson took 2-168, Hammond making 143.)

"You were only paid if you played and I was never sure of my place. As an uncapped player I got pounds 7 or pounds 8 a match but had to pay my own travel and hotel expenses."

By 1949, with a new wave of players emerging, including Fred Trueman and Brian Close, Robinson was released to spend three summers with Somerset, taking 102 wickets in 1951 and persisting in wearing his old, faded white rose cap.

He continued to live in Conisborough, next to the Plantagenet castle, and resumed his links with the Denaby club. He was properly honoured by Yorkshire by being made an Honorary Life Member of the club in 1982. He was dressing to play golf when he died.

Ellis Pembroke Robinson, cricketer: born Denaby, Yorkshire 10 August 1911; died Conisborough, Yorkshire 10 November 1998.