MIDDLESEX CCC FEATURE – Talented Sam Robson: I’ll never give up on my chances of an England recall
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Three memories. A trio of insights into character as much as talent. It is 2011 – the last time Middlesex’s County Cricket Club’s won promotion – and a Sydney-born Australian with an English mother and a British passport is batting with Andrew Strauss at Lord’s.
A precocious young Sam Robson matched the England Test captain shot for shot, hitting a century alongside the three-time Ashes winner and England legend, who scored a career best 241* in the same innings, for the Seaxes against Leicestershire.
But it was the bravery shown by the right handed opener by reluctantly retiring hurt on 101 after suffering double vision following a vicious blow on the helmet from a bouncer by Wayne White that sticks in the mind.
He looked genuinely aghast at the prospect he would have to leave the field of battle.
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Robson, an outstanding fielder as well, finished the 2011 season with an impressive 885 runs at a First Class average of 59.
A year later, in miserable weather, he suffered a dip, but still managed 814 First Class runs at an average of 30.14. He then went back and played grade cricket in Sydney for Eastern suburbs over the winter to hone his talent.
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He enjoyed a purple patch in 2013, scoring 1,180 Championship runs at an impressive average close to 50, with three centuries and a best of an unbeaten 215 – which saw his dedication and hard work pay off – as in 2014 he earned a call-up to the Test side, The England Test side.
Born in the inner city superb of Paddington – near the CBD, in that wonderful harbourside city in southern hemisphere city, rather than near the London railway station where Peruvian bears arrive – Robson had been equivocal about which country he would play for.
But when the call came from England he gladly accepted.
His reputation as a dependable accumulator of runs saw him play seven Tests that summer, scoring a ton in only his second Test, at Headingley, against Sri Lanka.
At the end of the season he had scored 336 runs at an average of 30.54. Nothing spectacular but hardly a failure either.
Yet despite the Test team’s travails in their never-ending quest for an opener to replace Strauss, Robson has not been seen on the biggest stage since.
Even if Nick Compton, Joe Root, Michael Carberry, Jonathan Trott, Adam Lyth, Moeen Ali, Ben Duckett, Haseeb Hameed, Keaton Jennings and Mark Stoneman have been partnered with Alastair Cook to varying degrees of success since the hugely-respected Strauss retired.
A second memory. Radlett CC. August 2015.
Robson is out cheaply against a Kent side in the Royal London limited over tournament.
We are in the middle of a heatwave and the picturesque outground is packed to the rafters. A convivial atmosphere abounds and smiles and shorts are as much the order of the day as beer and bonhomie.
Yet the normally-good natured Robson is not in the best of humour. He is asked about his fading England prospects and is tetchy.
It’s not down to me, he snaps.
For a friendly bloke his short reply is unsettling because it reveals an insight into his psyche. He wants to succeed. But his hopes are subsiding. And he is understandably not happy about it. It is sad to see.
Being the good team man he is he changes tack and talks about his beloved Middlesex.
Yet the feeling is one of an unsettled soul. Someone who is not enjoying his job. And it hurts him.
Of course, Robson being Robson, he still shows the utmost courtesy, and shakes you by the hand after the interview is over, and wishes you well as he walks away.
A third and final vignette.
Late September 2016. Lord’s. Robson has notched 899 runs at 44.95 including a top score of 231 during the season.
A never-to-be-forgotten match which saw more than 10,000 cricket lovers attracted to a fourth day of the final match of the season, as dramatic as any in the history of the championship.
Toby Roland Jones has just completed his hat-trick to win the title, denying opponents Yorkshire and, back at Taunton, Somerset too.
Although Robson suffered a pair during the match his reaction at the climax of an incredible game revealed the true team man he is.
He was simply joy unconfined. He cavorted with delight along with pals, yelling uncontrollably with his band of brothers who had shared much between them.
His ducks in both innings meant nothing to him in the wider scheme of things.
All that mattered was his team winning. And win they did. Robson had found the sense of fun which had evaporated throughout his England soujourn.
And it was good to see.
Fast forward two years, which included the crushing disappointment of relegation last term and it is good to see the Robson of old – confident, and at peace with himself.
“I had a bit of break away from cricket,” this good-natured sportsman tells me at the club’s press day at Lord’s this week.
“I went to Sydney. I was going to play for Easter Suburbs while I was out there but I didn’t play in the end as I had a bit of a niggly injury.
“I had a bit of tennis elbow so I didn’t play much over the winter – which was a good thing in some respects as it meant I could get away from the game and it means you come back hungry.
“That’s certainly how I feel now. I’m hungry and ready to go. I’m looking forward to cracking on with the season now.”
He is also looking forward to developing his leadership skills too, having been given the honour of becoming vice-captain.
“It’s a great honour to be appointed vice-captain of Middlesex,” he says with genuine enthusiasm at the prospect of thriving after being given additional responsibilty.
“It’s also a great honour to walk out on Friday as captain as Dawid [Malan] won’t be playing for us for a couple of weeks as he’s just got back. [From the England tour of New Zealand]. He’s having a little rest as it’s been a long winter for him [after playing in The Ashes].
“I’ve been here for a while now and I love the club. Hopefully I can do a good job and help. I’ve never really been one to gun for the captaincy or have massive ambitions in that respect.
“But I love the game and I feel like I have a decent read on the game and feel I can help. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Robson has played cricket for New South Wales Under-17s, Under-19s, the Australian Under-19 team, the University of New South Wales, and Eastern Suburbs.
He has also played First Class cricket for Middlesex since June 2009 and currently averages a fraction under 40.
He has 19 First Class centuries to his name in that time as has eased past 8,000 runs in the long form of the game.
And has played under some of the biggest names in world cricket, from Strauss to his mentor Chris ‘Buck’ Rogers.
He says: “Everyone has different strengths and different attributes but I have been very lucky to play under great captains.
“Blokes like Chris Rogers and Adam Voges are the guys who stick out for me, mainly because they are similar players to me in terms of being top order batsmen.
“I learned a lot off ‘Bucky’ early in my career. I think you take traits from various captains and feed that into your own style and giving it a crack.
“I still speak to him about cricket and batting. We’re still good friends and I use him for help and to get guidance and advice. He played the game for so long in Australia and all over the place – so hopefully I can have a good year and replicate the year we had last time in Division Two.”
What of his side’s prospects for 2018 after the bitter disappointment of last summer?
He thinks for a moment before explaining: “Things didn’t go well last year and frankly we didn’t play well enough. If things don’t go your way and you have a difficult few weeks as a team it’s easy to find yourself in the bottom two, which is what happened. It was disappointing.
“With eight in Division One now and ten in Division Two it’s going to be tough.
“Having said that, the majority of the guys in our squad played in the championship winning side of 2016 so there is a lot of quality there.
“Two years on and more experienced – and being better players – means it bodes well for this season.
“We’ve just got to go out there and prove it now.”
And what of those England prospects? Does he still harbour hopes of playing Test cricket again.
His reply is self-assured, a far cry from the frustrated character of 2015.
“For me, my focus is trying to play well for Middlesex – everything else will take care of itself.
“But, yes, for sure, I would love to play for England again. I feel like I’m a much better now than I was a few years ago when I got my chance and what’s pleasing is that I’ve kept improving.
“Hopefully I will show that over the next few weeks and months. Being an opening batter I know it’s far too easy to nick one early one but I feel like I’m improving and playing well.
“If the stars align then great – whether it’s in two months or five years I’ll never give up on that.”
It was reassuring to hear Robson speak with such assurance – as a good year for Robson invariably means a good year for Middlesex.
Because one thing you can rely on is the respected Robson never giving up on anything.
“Everyone is very excited and you feel the buzz before it all starts up and we’re all geared up to hopefully have a successful season,” he adds finally.
“It is good to talk about cricket it and analyse cricket – but I really can’t wait to start playing again.”
Robson the run accumulator in full flow is an enticing prospect.
For England as much as Middlesex.
Layth will be covering Middlesex this summer. Follow him on Twitter @laythy29.