Cricket: Robinson's idol work

Stephen Brenkley meets a man revelling in taking guard after one of the greats

ON THE scorecard is somebody called DDJ Robinson. This is actually now a codename because while the chap to whom it refers has been DDJ Robinson for 25 years he will be much more familiar in future, probably everywhere but among scorecards, family and really close friends, as GA Gooch's Successor.

It is grossly unfair but some poor sap had to get the job and Darren Robinson was the batsman in the direct lines of both fire and accession when it became available. He had been preparing for the role for years, in and out of the Essex side, sometimes opening, sometimes in the middle order, groomed to be a cricketer but mildly uncertain of his future.

As the old master stepped down last July, citing a fuel tank which refused to budge from empty, Robinson stepped in. He was given an automatic opening berth only in the Championship for the rest of the 1997 season but an injury last month to the county's captain, Paul Prichard, gave him the opportunity finally to nail the responsibility of seeing off the new ball in all competitions. He responded with consecutive one-day innings of 129no, 137no and 114. Just as the Essex faithful were honing the mantra, "Graham Who, Graham Who, Graham Who", however, GA Gooch's Successor went out at Chelmsford on Thursday and was out for nought to his second ball. He probably knew it was coming.

"You've got to make the best of a good run of form," he said the day before it ended with such unreasonable abruptness. "I know that I can't get out of being the man who followed Goochie at Essex. It seems that every time I'm mentioned that's how they refer to me. He was a terrific help, maybe even more so since his retirement, but I'd have to say the only similarity between us is that we both have to be careful not to put on weight."

It was easy to take the point. Gooch scored 65,928 runs in all forms of senior cricket, more than anybody else in history, and when he came in at Chelmsford last week Robinson's total was 61,718 fewer. But he wears the difficulties posed by such an accession with admirable sang-froid and although, despite the spring treble of centuries, comparisons are still daft, those innings also pointed to a rapidly developing sense of duty.

"I was bit of a fool to myself not long after I first got into the side on a regular basis," said Robinson, who played his first two matches for the county second eleven in 1993 and by 1995 had seemed to establish himself. "I maybe socialised too much, ate too much, didn't work as hard as I could, was too fat. But Essex stuck by me. They always showed confidence in me.

"I think the turning point in my own mind was in the late summer of 1996 at Colchester. I was in the side because Nasser was away at a Test and Goochie and I put on nearly 200 for the first wicket. He was just a real pleasure to watch but I coped pretty well with Courtney Walsh who was really putting it in. I think that was the first time that I felt I really might be able to play this game."

His season was ended in that innings when he broke a hand but, thus encouraged, he began to seek physical restitution that winter in the favoured haunt of the indolent overweight, the gym. He returned fitter and readier, a lesson learnt from the man he has now replaced.

"That was the greatest thing about Goochie, the way he prepared. By doing it almost as a ritual, he always gave himself the best chance. That's what I've tried to do. It's not the same preparation as his but it's the same for me each morning. He ran miles. I don't because I stiffen up but I have a system of shuttle runs."

Robinson, born in Essex, as Gooch was, has also picked up invaluable tips from the county's coach-cum-guru, Keith Fletcher, and their Australian batsman, Stuart Law. After his net on Wednesday he was politely summoned by Fletcher. The chat lasted less than a minute. "He doesn't say much, he doesn't have to, he makes every word count."

Law has taught him two significant practical lessons, one of which borders on the psychological. Robinson had confided that he was concerned about getting the ball past the fielders, especially in limited-overs cricket to which the reply came that he should not be looking at the fielders but the gaps between them. At Law's suggestion, he is also now using a lighter bat for one-day cricket. It is 2lb 9oz compared to the 2lb 12oz model he wields in first-class cricket.

"It's working so far. I use the heavier one for the four-day game because I think it helps me to play straighter between mid-on and mid-off. The other one has a crispness about which seems to be helping me to get on with early on in one-dayers."

Robinson is not looking too far beyond consolidating his place in the Essex side. As one of his colleagues ruefully observed as he talked, the interest in him had only been stoked because he was getting runs and if he had got three successive ducks (actually, he also started the season with one, leg before to his very first ball) attention would be more limited.

True enough, of course. But here he is, Darren Robinson, following in the footsteps of a cricketing legend. And he might enjoy being known as GA Gooch's Successor more than his long-time sobriquet, Pieshop.

Following in the footsteps of legends

Valdomiro

IN 1970 Brazil fielded the finest football team of all time containing in Pele the finest player of all time. Four years later, Valdomiro played in his stead. Brazil finished fourth but it is a measure of Valdomiro's success that coffins of players were carried through Rio streets when they finished fourth.

Steve Young

WHEN Joe Montana quit San Francisco 49ers, few doubted he was an irreplaceable quarter-back. Steve Young demonstrated otherwise. Not as prodigious in Super Bowl terms, Young still led the team to one success and he still leads the NFL in pass completions.

David Williams

COMING in at number six and taking some stunning catches as a wicketkeeper standing back, Jeff Dujon was always likely to be a hard act to follow in the West Indies team. David Williams was given the first shot and nobody else in the six years since Dujon retired has begun to step out of his shadow.

Phil Bennett

BARRY JOHN, the Wales stand-off, was known, even in New Zealand, as The King. Follow that. And Phil Bennett did. No sooner had John gone at the age of 27 than Bennett was there repeating the sidestep and the jink all over again. He accrued then record points and Wales stayed top of the Five Nations heap.

David Capel

THE foolhardy search for a replacement for Ian Botham continues. David Capel was the first all-rounder on whom the cap was placed. Worthy though he was, it never fitted throughout his 15 Test matches in which his highest score was 98 and his best bowling figures were 3-88.

Micky Mantle

ICONS don't come any larger than Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper who made 2,214 hits and had an average of .325. But when Micky Mantle assumed his centrefield spot at the New York Yankees he launched a 17-year career which brought more hits and the side's best ever World Series sequence.

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