Ollie Robinson’s return to the England Test team was won through a lot of hard work in the gym

It was mid-May, around the time Ollie Robinson was being attended to by paramedics after making just six deliveries to open a County Championship game at Grace Road, when months of frustration reached its peak. The more he pushed for a return to England, the further away it felt.

An international career that had started so promisingly with 39 wickets in nine appearances had faltered and even those who knew him best publicly questioned his desire to perform on the biggest stage, which he had done since the end of one sad Ashes series when A back spasm limited his attendance at Hobart, and bowling coach Jon Lewis’s candid assessment of his lifestyle survived the post-mortem.

Only now, after a triumphant 10th Test against South Africa, has Robinson broken his silence on the catalog of disasters that brought things to a standstill by eight months. Comeback attempts in the Caribbean in the spring failed due to wear and tear in the left facet joints of his back. Later obstacles early in the season with Sussex could not be made up: a dental problem requiring surgery ruled him out for a week; a positive covid test closest.

Ollie Robinson made a stunning start in Test cricket, conceding 39 wickets in nine appearances

With games ending ahead of the Test summer, he insisted on playing against Leicestershire despite being unwell. “I had food poisoning, but I still tried to play the game. I literally couldn’t bowl more than 70 miles an hour because I was so ill. I walked off the field and the ambulance guy put me on an IV for an hour. I literally couldn’t function,” he says.

The 28-year-old made his debut in the longest format of the game against New Zealand in 2021

The 28-year-old made his debut in the longest format of the game against New Zealand in 2021

“I really wanted to play. If I hadn’t had those issues I would have just missed this game, but because I was trying to prove people wrong all the time I just kept trying to push and push and then eventually broke.

Although he returned to bowling in the second innings of that game, the back problems resurfaced and by the end he had returned to bowling off-spin. A last-minute withdrawal from the Counties XI’s game against the New Zealanders the following week was then paired with a call from New England captain Ben Stokes to change the course of his summer.

‘I remember his words clearly. We don’t need you to pass fitness tests or run two kilometers in seven minutes. We need you to bowl five straight Test games all day long at the same pace for five days. That’s your goal,” he says.

“County cricket is so different. You can bowl spells at 80 percent and take wickets. There is no hiding in international cricket. In a team like India you’re up against seven Virat Kohlis and you need to be at your best, just as Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have been throughout their careers.

After the ECB’s medical team recommended two steroid injections and two months off from cricket, he began the body-altering training program that would allow him to meet Stokes’ requirements. “The injections actually meant I had to do absolutely nothing for 10 days, then go to the gym almost every day for five, six weeks, three times a week,” he says.

The Sussex sailor returned to Brendon McCullum's side this summer from injuries

The Sussex sailor returned to Brendon McCullum’s side this summer from injuries

“A lot of this I’ve done before, but I probably didn’t try as hard as I could, which I didn’t really realize at the time. I always felt like I was doing a good training session, but it’s all about the really fine details. I’ve transitioned from measuring myself between sets to weighing every set I do. It really helps maintain heart rate and lactic acid in your muscles between sets.

“I’ve just gotten more meticulous about that side of things. I’ve been lifting heavier weights, doing more reps, running more, and it makes me feel stronger.”

Signs were promising during a strong second inning in the England Lions’ stunning win over South Africa in Canterbury. Then, significantly, during his five-wicket comeback at Manchester last month, when he was handed the new ball in front of Broad, his pace soared into the mid-80s. Sealing the win by shattering tail-ender Lungi Ngidi’s stumps wasn’t so much a tell-you-so moment as one Robinson should nonetheless cherish.

“It was hard to read some things that were written about me because there wasn’t a lack of trying, it was just that my body wasn’t getting to where it needed to be to play and kept moving on two Steps forward, one step back,’ he says.

Robinson has better averages and bests than England legend James Anderson

Robinson has better averages and bests than England legend James Anderson

“But that’s where people misunderstand me a bit. I’ve had this call where it’s said, “He’s not that worried.” Because I’m a very laid-back character, people go, “Oh, he doesn’t care.” But I care more than anyone I know in the sport. I might not have learned as fast as I could have on some parts, but who hasn’t made mistakes?’


Robinson has not absolved himself of the blame for the deterioration in his physical condition over the past winter.

“Recently I saw a picture of me from Australia and then a picture of me on the latest series and it’s only when you look back like that you’re like, ‘Wow, did I really look like that?’

“I spoke to the nutritionist about the fact that we need to eat a lot when playing to keep ourselves strong. But I just didn’t get off that much after we were done.

Such an admission suggests the penny has dropped for a Seam bowling talent whose Test is costing Wicket’s world-class 21 runs apiece. And shows why he harbors no malice towards Lewis for his January embarrassment.

“I don’t think he meant it that way. I worked with him in Sussex for three or four years before England and we have an honest relationship,” says Robinson. “I said to him, ‘If you think I should do something, don’t beat around the bush, just tell me, because that’ll make me better.’

Robinson has proven to be an advisor. On the eve of this LV=Insurance series, he was backstage at a Coldplay show when one of rock’s most famous men joined their company.

Despite comments from bowling coach Jon Lewis, Robinson admits he holds no grudges

Despite comments from bowling coach Jon Lewis, Robinson admits he holds no grudges

“It was such a surreal moment. So we’re all sitting around and Chris Martin walks in about five minutes before he goes on stage. He knows each and every one of us by our first names. He comes up to us and shakes our hands. Ben, Ollie, Jim, how are you? Something like that,” says Robinson.

“All eyes are on him and he’s got the whole group talking when out of nowhere he calls one of his staff and says, ‘Do you have the book for Ollie?’ Ollie Pope sits to my left and we look at each other . Chris gets the book and comes over to me.

“He told me he got it for me because ‘when I read it, I thought of you.’ It has, he said, helped him in the last 18 months of performance and is useful when struggling with anxiety or something.


He sealed his triumphant Test return by taking the last South African wicket from Lungo Ngidi

“I was stunned that someone so big had taken the time to think of me like that. I don’t think I spoke for five minutes.’

Patrick McKeown’s The Oxygen Advantage explores how a simple breathing technique can revolutionize health.

Evidence suggests a special fix-you wasn’t necessary, although attention will be on his endurance at this week’s Kia Oval playoff.

The prospect doesn’t deter him, because he says: “It will be my first series win if we can do it.” Ollie Robinson’s return to the England Test team was won through a lot of hard work in the gym

Maureen Mackey

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