Robinson will always remember his Test debut for the wrong reasons
Ollie Robinson was living up to the billing and looking like the new Angus Fraser on his Test debut but then his past instantly overhauled the present… now it’ll always be a day he’ll remember for the wrong reasons
- Historic racist and sexist posts from Ollie Robinson emerged on his Test debut
- Robinson apologised for his ‘inexcusable’ remarks, that he made as a teenager
- The bowler was impressing with the ball in the early sessions against the Kiwis
- He may face punishment with the ECB launching a full investigation into it
Ollie Robinson will not forget his first day as a Test cricketer.
In the morning, he stood in silence for a ‘moment of unity’, as England’s players wore T-shirts bearing anti-discrimination messages. By evening, he was apologising for tweets written nine years ago. They included references to ‘Asian smileys’, Muslims and bombs, and ‘n*****’. Some were sexist in nature.
In between these jarring contradictions came evidence of why England had capped him in the first place: a nagging line and length, plus the wickets of New Zealand opener Tom Latham and veteran batsman Ross Taylor.
Ollie Robinson’s Test debut was marred after historic racist and sexist tweets emerged
He was living up to the billing: accurate, aggressive, nipping it both ways. The new Angus Fraser, agreed experts. All seemed well.
Yet when it emerged, between lunch and tea on an otherwise optimistic first day of the Test summer, that Robinson had misspent time on Twitter at the age of 18, the past instantly overhauled the present.
Not that he knew. Alerted to the situation, the England management chose not to tell Robinson during the tea break, which meant he spent the final session in blissful ignorance. Playwrights call this dramatic irony, when the audience knows more than the protagonist. Others will have a more pointed description.
Racist tweets are never welcome. When they come to light only hours after the institution you represent has publicly embarked on a new era of zero tolerance against ‘racism, religious intolerance, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism and ageism’, you can only imagine the scenes at ECB headquarters.
Robinson impressed with the ball, taking two wickets, but now finds himself in hot water
No matter how long ago Robinson erred, this is a heads-in-hands moment. A strongly worded statement from ECB chief executive Tom Harrison confirmed as much.
Diversity is, to say the very least, a sensitive subject in cricket right now. England faced criticism last summer for their decision to stop taking a knee for the series against Pakistan and Australia, having done so against West Indies and Ireland. Michael Holding was especially scathing.
In private, ECB officials admit the decision sent out the wrong signals at a time when many others were stepping up their response to the Black Lives Matter message. It was a clumsy move, born partly of concerns that BLM had become too politicised.
There followed a period of introspection, both at board level and in the dressing-room. Last week, Test captain Joe Root told Sportsmail that the subject was ‘something we have talked a huge amount about, and feel really strongly about’. He meant it, too.
Robinson wore Anti-Discrimination T-shirt along with his England team-mates before the Test
Then, before this game, he revealed plans to take cricket to the country’s more disadvantaged areas, in a bid to convince sceptics that the sport can spread beyond its public-school base.
England want to do the right thing, even if you disagree with the extent to which the message has moved away from racial equality. The will is there to make cricket more accessible, which is why the emergence of the tweets could not be more badly timed – both for the ECB and for Robinson himself.
There are some who will dismiss them as a youthful transgression; one or two may even plead ‘banter’. But nine years ago is hardly another era, and Robinson was on the first rung of cricket’s ladder: less than a year after the tweets, he was making his debut for Yorkshire.
If anything, this is a reminder that the ECB are right to keep educating their cricketers, even if it is disconcerting that they should need educating at all. And plenty of work remains.
Earlier this week, Craig Overton – who was in the running for Robinson’s place in this Test – was obliged during an interview to revisit comments in 2015 to Sussex’s Pakistan-born all-rounder Ashar Zaidi, whom he allegedly told to ‘go back to your own f****** country’.
The bowler said he was ashamed in an apology but now could face a big fine and suspension
Pressed by Wisden.com on whether he made the remark, Overton replied: ‘I don’t believe I said it.’ He went on to cite the fact that he often spoke to his Somerset team-mate Azhar Ali, the Pakistan Test batsman, as evidence he was ‘not that sort of person’.
Like everyone else, cricketers are the product of their society. Belatedly, the sport is acknowledging its responsibilities.
But this was a day when cricket was supposed to be emerging into a cheerful new summer, when – it is hoped – the worst of the Covid are restrictions behind us. It was a day when we might have been talking about how the novice Robinson took more wickets than the veterans Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad between them.
Instead, Robinson looked shattered as he read out a statement in which he described himself as ‘embarrassed’, ‘ashamed’, ‘thoughtless’ and ‘irresponsible’. He added that he was ‘not racist’, and ‘not sexist’.
But worse may be to come, with Harrison announcing a ‘full investigation’. What he expects to find is unclear. The tweets speak for themselves, just as Robinson hoped his bowling would on a day he will always remember for the wrong reasons.
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