England v Sri Lanka: Sam Robson opens his account with slow and steady century

New opener stakes claim but rest of top order are culpable as toothless  Sri Lankan attack stick to task, writes Stephen Brenkley at Headingley

Cramped low over a tightly gripped bat as if he feared someone might steal it, Sam Robson scored his maiden Test hundred yesterday. He was the 159th player to reach the landmark for England, the third to do so having been born in Australia.

The innings was low on both error and entertainment, a model of patience and diligence. At no point did it convey the impression that Australia’s selectors might be as sick as a dingo that Robson chose to leave his native land for the country whence his mother hailed.

However, it was exactly what England required to assert control of the second Investec Test against Sri Lanka here. That they failed eventually to impose their authority as they ought to have done was no fault of Robson.

It took him 220 balls over a little more than five hours to reach his hundred, which included 11 fours. If it was difficult to recall a memorable stroke – though he was more expansive after reaching three figures with four more fours and a six  on his way to 127 – it was harder still to think of a false one. The pitch was made for batting, the bowling was far short of the highest Test standard, but Robson set out his stall from the start and never moved it a centimetre.

By the close of the second day the home side were 320 for 6, leading by 63, and the tourists, responding with spirit in the evening, provided another reminder that while they may lose they are not here to roll over and have their tummies tickled. Ian Bell, in his 100th Test, made a handsomely appointed 64, which was unluckily terminated; Gary Ballance, in his third, scored a painstaking 74 in a partnership of 142 with Robson.

All was not quite hunky dory for England’s top order. Their captain, Alastair Cook, was out in the day’s fourth over, pushing at a ball outside off stump and edging to first slip. It was a perfect replica of many previous dismissals in his Test career – a counterfeit artist would love such talent for precise copying – and it arrived at a bad time.

Cook has scored more than 8,000 Test runs and 25 Test hundreds but he has not scored many of either lately. To suggest that the captaincy is not affecting his batting will plainly not bear scrutiny. England have put abundant faith in Cook as batsman and leader, and whatever is said by pundits there is abundant goodwill towards him.

This cannot continue indefinitely, however. Or perhaps it can under the present regime, who have staked their reputation on Cook. Just in case, they might start working on a plan B. Perhaps the corner is there waiting to be turned but it is almost more worrying that Cook keeps apparently establishing himself in an innings and then being dismissed than it would be if he was continually being removed by the new ball.

Robson did all that could have been expected of him in his second Test match and if the selectors have been as diligent as he was, they will have known precisely what they could expect. There is nothing flash about Robson, whose hands are spread wide on the bat handle and his stance has a pronounced crouch. Batting is clearly a serious business for him and he never relaxed at the crease, preferring to tap the pitch earnestly between most balls.

He left assiduously, one of those who would probably avoid playing at every ball if he could. There were 192 balls in his innings from which he did not score but few if any of those genuinely beat him.

It is too early to say if Robson yesterday laid the groundwork for a durable Test career but this was a cracking start. He will certainly face more probing attacks than this one. But he played what was in front of him. If his limitations are many, he may have worked out how to play within them.

Robson was born and effectively learned his cricket in Australia. He came over here at the age of 18 to play for Middlesex. His brother, Angus, is now on Leicestershire’s books. Their father, known as Jungle Jim, is a legend in Sydney cricket circles and was here in Yorkshire with his wife to see Sam’s hundred.

“As soon as he turned 18 he came straight over to England to play. London is one of the great cities of the world and I knew how good the cricket set-up was and I knew he would play so much,” said Robson senior. “He always wanted to be a cricketer and over here is much better for a person like that. You play a lot more first-class games here and you have a second XI structure where you play a lot of games. I think that suited his style of cricket.”

The previous Australian born-players to score Test hundreds for England were Gubby Allen, who became as English as they come, and more recently Tim Ambrose.

Eventually, Robson may have to up the ante if he is to prosper as an opener. But in its way, in the position of this match, he went about his business impeccably. When he lost Cook so early, it was imperative that he stayed.

He and Ballance, fresh from his maiden hundred at Lord’s, were deliberately cautious. The run-rate was under three runs an over.

All the dismissals were avoidable. Ballance edged behind, Robson was bowled through a loose drive, Bell glanced down the leg side, Joe Root hung out his bat, Moeen Ali lunged at a wide one. An England win is not quite assured.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game