What a disappointing end to what could’ve been a terrific Test match. New Zealand’s declaration was typically sporting and yet England showed absolutely no interest in going for the runs and entertaining the public. It left David Lloyd lamenting “one of the worst Test matches I’ve ever seen” whilst somewhat predictably bigging up The Hundred. It was therefore a dark day for those who love Test cricket.
Why were England so negative? It’s partly because very few teams (whoever they are) show much adventure in these circumstances. Having said that, Dom Sibley’s 60 off 207 balls took passivity to extremes. I don’t want to have a go at Sibley, because it’s great to have a player like that in the side. However, once the game was effectively safe then he should have moved up a gear or two. The pitch was pretty good and the opportunity was there.
In the end I turned over to the England football friendly. Jack Grealish brought me more joy in 45 mins that England’s batsmen did in 70 overs. You know something’s wrong when a meaningless football friendly is more entertaining than what should’ve been a live Test match.
We shouldn’t forget at this point that the ECB are amongst those advocating 4-day Test cricket. I’ll never understand their argument. Taking time out of the game will not encourage positive play. It’s most likely to result in more snooze-fests. This game might have turned into a classic had the weather not wiped out Friday’s play. Instead the shortened timeframe gave England’s negative batsmen an easy way out. Confidence levels must be very low indeed.
So what were the positives from this game? I’ll give you two. The first was Rory Burns, who batted superbly for his century in the first innings. Some people had started to question his place. I never bought into that. Burns has proven himself to be a gutsy opener in home conditions. He’s a decent Test opener who should do well everywhere except the subcontinent where his frailties against spin will be exposed.
The other positive was a certain Ollie Robinson. What a debut. Unlike other bowlers who’ve performed well on debut like Toby Roland Jones, I actually think that Robinson has a big future. He’s deadly accurate and shows plenty of aggression too. I think he looks more than a ‘home conditions’ stopgap. He looks like the natural replacement for Stuart Broad in my humble opinion.
The only problem, of course, is that his short-term future has now been derailed by something that happened well in the past. No sooner had stumps been called than the ECB suspended him from all international cricket for his racist and misogynistic tweets back in 2012. Well, you didn’t think the ECB would miss a golden opportunity to signal their inherent virtue to the world, did you?
Now don’t get me wrong. I can understand the ECB’s dilemma here. Cricket clearly has a problem when it comes to race. It’s a serious issue. And it needs to be addressed. Black cricketers, for example, are clearly underrepresented in the county ranks. Umpires John Holder and Ismail Dawood are currently embroiled in a dispute with the ECB and remain convinced that the organisation is “institutionally racist”. I strongly suggest that you look into this one. Meanwhile, we all know about Azeem Rafiq’s experiences at Yorkshire.
Given the current climate, and the existing allegations against them, I would expect the ECB to come down on Robinson like a ton of bricks. It would make their anti-discrimination campaign look extremely hollow indeed if they brushed this one under the carpet. However, it all stinks of buckpassing to me. What about admitting their own role in this damaging episode for cricket’s reputation?
I’m still incredulous that a cricketer was able to make his Test debut when racist and misogynistic Tweets attached to him (no matter how long ago they were written) were out in the ether. Why on earth didn’t they do their due diligence? Businesses everywhere make sure that their new hires are clean of controversy, especially when they’re assuming roles in the public eye or roles of responsibility. I find it absolutely extraordinary that the ECB hasn’t been taking the same steps. Social media is a fact of life. It’s been with us for a decade. And yet the ECB still didn’t see something like this coming?!
My reading of the situation is this: the ECB have dropped the ball yet again and now they’re making an example of Robinson in a desperate attempt to (a) make them look tough on racism, and (b) deflect attention away from the fact that they’ve screwed up massively by letting Robinson play for England when Tweets like this were out there in the first place. It’s so reactionary.
Given the ECB’s reputation for inertia, and English cricket’s current problems regarding racism, one could argue that the ECB had no choice but to suspend Robinson. However, this doesn’t change the fact that all this should’ve been dealt with long ago. The player has been on England’s radar for a quite while. And his struggles to keep his nose clean earlier in his career weren’t exactly a secret. The warning signs were there.
I would’ve preferred the board to conduct its due diligence, identify a potential problem, delete the tweets – as all offensive materials should be routinely removed from Twitter anyway (it serves no purpose to leave them there in perpetuity) – and then either discipline the player publicly or privately. In other words, the ECB should’ve been proactive, avoided the media storm, and educated the player long ago so things would’ve played out very differently.
What’s more, banning Robinson now, almost a decade after the event, seems harsh to me. Is it really fair to make an example of someone in these specific circumstances? He was obviously an extremely ignorant teenager – those tweets were awful – but is he the same person now? One would hope not.
What concerns me is that Robinson could end up paying a disproportionately high penalty simply because of the board’s own failings. This would not be fair. And it wouldn’t be justice either. Why should an individual suffer a higher penalty than he might otherwise have received due to a broader context that isn’t of his making – especially when this context was largely created by the very people now punishing him?
We’ll have to wait and see what the sanction ultimately is. However, as I said above, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ECB overreact by issuing a punishment that says more about the mess they’re in as an organisation re: racism than Robison as an individual.