A Very English Batsman

Despite his Australian upbringing (and the fact that he was crassly written off as a 'poor man's Nick Compton' by Bob Willis after his first Test appearance), Sam Robson cuts a figure which seems far from out of place at the top of the English order, with the result that he already radiates a curious sense of belonging.

With his pale, pinched features, his diffident seriousness, his hunched, mildly idiosyncratic, ball-sniffing method, and his steadiness of tempo, Robson seems a world away from the popular notion - fed with relish these past couple of years by another Sydneysider - of the gum-chewing, Baggy Green wearing, top-order slasher, bristling with confrontational aggression. If you want to fall back on Aussie stereotypes from a dimmer past, years before Robson was even a glimmer in his now well-recognized father's eye, he's a good deal more Bill Lawry than Keith Stackpole, let alone David Warner. He bats as if he was brought up on the capricious surfaces of his adopted county, with their boundary roads and their exhaust infused atmospheres, rather than the true surfaces of the Australian world city where he grew up.

In this he fits. English cricket has always subsisted on an underlying conservatism of method, a mistrust of the unusual, a reluctance to embrace and celebrate genius. With Pietersen - a foreign-born and raised player whose contradictory nature and self-celebrated brilliance always ran counter to this - cast to the winds, there is a sense that, even though three of its newest recruits were born abroad, that the English side is retreating towards that which it knows best and feels most comfortable with. This may not, of course, be an entirely good thing.

Although sterner tests await, Gary Ballance has looked well-organised and temperamentally sound at three, replicating much of Jonathan Trott's calmness and resilience without his obsessive ritualism and sense of restrained, scowling anxiety, while Moeen Ali has exuded languid class at six, although each of his dismissals so far has raised questions. Chris Jordan has the air of a gifted and versatile operator, if one who still doesn't quite grasp the limitations of his technique or the limits of his potential. Joe Root, back in the side after a year of being messed around, accumulates with the unpretentiousness assurance of one who, for all his lack of distinctive elegance, knows that he can perform at the highest level and isn't afraid of being seen to enjoy the experience.

And then there is Robson's more experienced opening partner. With Cook we have been this way before, and, in the end, he always comes good. And, on account of his much-derided captaincy, the end for him will be further away than for many others, which, in its turn, reinforces the impression of a team which is rebuilding by retreating to the mode which it knows best, new players from around the globe or not.

This grates a little. England may be more stable sans KP and ultimately - although one's hunch is that it will be a long time - they may become as successful as they were with him. But it will also be a long time before they will excite in the same way.

For all that Robson appears to fit his role like a glove, he will never set many pulses racing. For that we may have to wait in hope for a player who was born in the county which Robson has adopted.

But Alex Hales still isn't deemed good enough for England's fifty over side, which, if you stop to think about it, says quite a lot.


Unknown said...
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Brian Carpenter said...

I see your comment has disappeared, Gerald, but I'll reply anyway.

I wasn't trying to suggest that Robson was the saviour of English batting - very far from it - I was just pointing to the fact that he looks like an English batsman, not an Australian (which may not be an asset!).

I don't think his selection has anything to do with the fact that he opens the batting for Middlesex with Chris Rogers. Why on earth should it? Robson's made plenty enough runs (notably in SL for the Lions) to justify his selection.

As for who's likely to be opening in the last Test of the summer, who knows? Cook is far from fireproof now; in fact I wouldn't be at all surprised if he resigned the captaincy after defeat today, which will make his opening position more vulnerable still.

Don't agree about Carberry. Fully deserved the chance in Australia but wasn't quite up to it. Would have done better here, but that's just the way it goes.

Anonymous said...

Brian, that's such a soothing read - so welcome at a time when hyperbole and extreme reaction abound. There's so much uncertainty with the team that someone who 'fits' even if it is with a conservative form of play is welcome. I hope you saw Moeen Ali's knock and that you have the time to record your thoughts on it.
Hope to see you next month.

Brian Carpenter said...

Thanks, Chris. I only saw the last hour on Tuesday after work so I don't feel qualified or quite inspired enough to write a whole piece about Moeen's innings but, mostly from the highlights, it looked like a very classy and mature knock with the judgement around off-stump which had let him down in a couple of his previous innings. He looks a gem.

I can't recall seeing much of him live, so it'll be really good to do so at Lord's. Let me know when you're there and hopefully we can sit together in the pavilion as things should be less crowded than last year. I'm going to be around for the whole game.

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