Sam Robson: England's opener in waiting?
He looks like an Aussie, he sounds like an Aussie... but he is determined to play for England - and it could happen sooner rather than later with Test spots available
Wednesday 02 April 2014
Sam Robson looks like an Australian. It's the spiky blond hair that does it, which is not surprising since he was born an Australian and sounds like an Australian. On the other hand, Sam Robson bats like Michael Atherton and wants to play for England, and before summer is out he may well have done so.
Apply the old American duck test – if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck – and Robson would come out Australian. Yet it is all, to stay in theme, water off this duck's back. He wants to play for England, has committed himself to his new country, his mother's land, and turned down approaches to return to the land of his birth.
"I came over here and loved everything about it, loved the cricket system, loved playing for Middlesex, loved being at Lord's as a professional cricketer," says Robson. "It has become my home, this is where I live. That's the be-all and end-all of it."
Not quite yet it isn't. He patiently answers a succession of questions about his nationality and his national identity, listening attentively and replying straightforwardly and, it seems, honestly. Much as he plays his cricket.
"I came to England as soon as I finished school. Here is where I have been a professional cricketer, this is where I learnt to play first-class cricket. Yeah look, I grew up in Australia and I still go back there occasionally – my family live there. There is no hiding that and I have never tried to hide that. All I have tried to reinforce is my commitment to the English cricket system. I committed to it when I first came over, having to give up opportunities in Australia when I was very young. My focus has always been here. Regardless of whether I move up the ranks or not, that's irrelevant – just by playing county cricket all the time I'm committed. I obviously grew up overseas – that's how it is – but in terms of cricket I'm committed."
He shrugs, a physical suggestion that for him it really is as simple as all that. It is an issue he will have to face again. England and its cricketing imports has become a theme of recent years but Robson, who holds dual nationality and qualified to play for England last year, appears equipped to deal with it when he is chosen for the Test side. And the well-informed money is on it being when, not if.
On Tuesday he scored a brisk century in a warm-up game against Hampshire ahead of Sunday's start of the County Championship – Middlesex face Sussex at Hove. That picked up where he had left off in a winter that contained two centuries for the England Lions in three games in Sri Lanka, the second an unbeaten 147 in Colombo under the interested gaze of Graham Gooch, England's batting coach.
There is an opening alongside Alastair Cook at the top of the England order for the first Test against Sri Lanka in June. Michael Carberry opened in Australia but has not made the position his own – and his outspoken comments about coach Ashley Giles this week will hardly strengthen his claim. Robson's weight of runs, meanwhile, has ushered him towards the front of the queue. The 24-year-old is not short of admirers in high places.
Angus Fraser, Middlesex's director of cricket and now an England selector, has been instrumental in Robson's progress since the former Australia Under-19 player arrived in London in 2008, fuelled by his father's tales of playing club cricket in England.
"He's got a good all-round game and a great head on his shoulders – he's just a nice lad who loves cricket," says Fraser. "He's got a good outlook on life – he is a young man who you want to see do well.
"It's going to be a challenge for him this summer. A lot of people are going to be looking at him, but then a lot of people were looking at him in the winter when he went back to Australia with the [England] performance programme – to be an Aussie boy and go and perform in Australia shows he's got some nous."
That trip was Robson's first back to Australia as a player and he scored centuries in both matches, against Queensland and South Australia's second XIs. He has turned down opportunities to return and play first-class cricket there and so put himself forward for selection for Australia, in whose colours he last appeared in 2007 as part of an Under-19 side with James Faulkner and Mitchell Starc.
Robson grew up in Sydney, the son of a cricket-loving father, Jim, who played club cricket in England for a couple of carefree years. In backyard games with his younger brother, Angus, now with Leicestershire, Robson would model himself on Michael Slater, and even Michael Vaughan in the wake of the future England captain's dazzling 2002-03 Ashes.
The grown-up Robson has matured into a different type of opener. Fraser, among others, has drawn the comparison with Atherton. At Middlesex Robson has been tutored by Mark O'Neill, the county's former batting coach and another Australian. Opening the Middlesex innings alongside Chris Rodgers has upped the Australian influence even further. Since O'Neill's departure Mark Ramprakash has overseen his development.
"I have worked on my game with those guys," says Robson. "I'm not too flash. I'm not going to go out and hit sixes from ball one, that's for sure. I pride myself on having a good technique and I try and work on that and hone it. I suppose that's one of my strengths."
It seems a contradiction, but England's winter of horrors has added an extra buzz to the start of the new season. It is open season; players up and down the country know there are places for the taking in the Test and one-day sides. The counties may need a strong England for their long-term prosperity, but in the here and now it adds an edge to domestic chores. The likes of Gary Ballance and James Taylor eye the middle order, while Robson, Nick Compton and Varun Chopra target Carberry's place.
If Robson can master the occasional naughtiness of April pitches and continue his form of last season – he was the third-highest scorer in the First Division behind Ballance and Derbyshire's Wayne Madsen – then he knows Fraser and the selection panel will be discussing him for a Test debut at his adopted home.
"It's the way my life has panned out and I couldn't be happier," he says. "I'm well aware of how tough a game cricket is. Whatever happens I'm already lucky, I love living here, playing for Middlesex.
"It's a big couple of months for everyone. The start of the season will be interesting because there are a lot of the England players playing. It's an exciting time but I don't feel any pressure apart from the usual pressure to go out there and improve for your team."
Carberry double trouble but Finn's getting better
Michael Carberry, having given vent to his dissatisfaction with his treatment by England, made less of an impression in the middle today, falling twice in the space of a day during Hampshire's pre-season friendly with Middlesex.
Carberry was dismissed for nine and six, Tim Murtagh taking his wicket both times, at the Rose Bowl. During Hampshire's first innings, Steven Finn furthered his encouraging reintroduction to the game following his early return from England's tour to Australia, the paceman taking 3 for 37 from 11.2 overs.
Jonathan Trott, another player who left the tour of Australia early, was denied the chance of time in the middle as rain brought an early end to Warwickshire's friendly with Gloucestershire at Edgbaston, while Matt Prior, another in need of early-season runs, suffered a two-ball duck playing for Sussex against Loughborough University.
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