Middlesex 317 for 4 (Robson 175*, Gubbins 68) v Warwickshire
Sam Robson took advantage of Warwickshire’s early waywardness © Getty Images
Sam Robson‘s name has slipped down the list of potential England partners since the last of his seven Tests in August 2014.
But at Lord’s, against an attack with a good reputation and inserted on a damp April morning, he provided a reminder of his qualities with an assured century that has given Middlesex a strong platform in this match.
Robson’s game is admirably simple. He cuts terrifically well, drives fluently and is efficient off his legs. That is every bit as strong a repertoire as Alastair Cook and he seems to have managed rather well.
His problem in his spell in the Test side – his first spell we should probably say – in the summer of 2014 was some uncertainty on and outside off stump. Unsure whether to play or leave, he nicked off a few times early in the summer and was bowled in his final two innings, once as he left one that swung back into him. He passed 50 twice in 11 innings, including a century against Sri Lanka at Leeds.
His experience of the life-cycle of an England player – the glare of the spotlight, the focus of the media and the disappointment of his axing – appeared to leave him struggling for equilibrium for a while. He had, until today, scored only one first-class century since he was dropped and, in a disappointing 2015 campaign, averaged a modest 30.72 in the Championship season.
But here he showed a good defensive technique – and Keith Barker’s left-arm swing examines a batsman’s ability on the off stump as well as the best in county cricket – and an ability to punish the poor ball that suggested he had recovered his confidence in his style of play.
“My off stump play is a strength of mine,” Robson said afterwards, “but, for a little while 18-months or two years ago, I went away from that a bit. But I’ve tried to strengthen it even more recently and I know I have to stick to my game and what I’m good at.”
He also has a hunger for runs that is reminiscent of Cook, too. There was no sign of relief or relaxation once he reached his century. His next 10 runs were among his slowest of the innings and his determination to establish a match-defining position was impressive. His skills – patience, denial and accumulation – are not especially fashionable. But, in Test cricket at least, there is still a place for them. If he can sustain this start to the season, his time could yet come again.
It would be premature to suggest he is ripe for a recall just yet. This Warwickshire attack, without the injured pair of Chris Woakes and Boyd Rankin (Rankin has “a niggle” in his side and will be assessed again in a couple of days, while Woakes has a minor strain behind his knee and is expected to be fit for the next match) bowled poorly before lunch and perhaps lacked the persistent pace to exploit any potential weakness against the short ball. On one of the few occasions Robson was tested, an attempted pull off Rikki Clarke flew off the top edge and perilously close to Chris Wright at fine leg.
His opening partner, Nick Gubbins, was also impressive. While he, like Robson, was the beneficiary of some obliging bowling he played a couple of strokes – notably a back-foot force of a perfectly respectable ball from Wright – that hinted at unusual class. He, too, was troubled by Clarke’s bouncer – one attempted pull flew over the keeper’s head – but, that moment apart, he looked a player of considerable potential. It is no surprise that Middlesex felt they did not require Chris Rogers this season, or that Paul Stirling may be allowed to play on loan elsewhere in the coming weeks.
Having effectively given Middlesex a 120-run lead – the score from 31 overs at lunch – Warwickshire tightened up considerably in the afternoon session. With the warmth of the sun appearing to quicken the pitch Wright struck twice in two deliveries, first taking Gubbins’ edge with one that appeared to surprise him with its pace and bounce and then, next delivery, having Nick Compton acrobatically caught off the shoulder of the bat as he pushed at one he could have left. It is unlikely one failure will have any adverse repercussions for his Test place, though Robson and Adam Lyth’s fine starts cannot be completely ignored.
Later Dawid Malan left one from Barker that did not swing – he had been set-up by a series of balls leaving the bat – and Adam Voges played on, deceived by a little inswing. Had John Simpson, on 13, been taken by Ian Westwood at point off Clarke, Warwickshire might have felt they were back in the game.
As it was, Robson – who scored 175 out of 317 on the day – continued to cut and drive his way merrily and needs only 25 more for his second double-century against this opposition. It could well prove a match-winning contribution.
Ian Bell admitted that, in hindsight, his decision to bowl first was probably an error. He also knows that, with no heavy roller in use in this match, the indentations made on the first day on a damp surface could become problematic for batsmen later in the game.
“We weren’t at our best before lunch,” he said. “And Robson has played very well. It was a 50-50 decision to have a toss. There had been a lot of rain around London in recent days and the covers were on all day yesterday. There was frost on them this morning.
“It did enough, but were didn’t get enough balls in the right area. In hindsight, I’d probably have the toss, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.”
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo