Of the questions that have emerged from the recent Test series between England and India, along with ‘are the Indian batsmen all little princesses who think they are above Test cricket?’, ‘would an inanimate carbon rod be a better Test captain than Dhoni?’, and ‘has James Anderson ever thought about a career in the Navy?’, one of the more interesting, from an English perspective, is whether Sam Robson deserves to keep his place in the eleven. With an(other) Ashes series looming, England will be wanting to sort out their top order sooner rather than later. But a more pressing question is why Robson looks so limited a batsman in the first place at all?
Robson’s elevation was hardly a stab in the dark by the English selectors (unlike the selection of, say, Boyd Rankin). The amount of runs he has scored in County cricket in recent years pretty much demanded recognition. The only question was of which nation would get to him first, and in the end England acted quicker than the Australians and got their man. It’s not often you see two nations squabbling over a player like they did Robson. It’s even rarer to wonder, six months down the line, what all the fuss was about in the first place.
Admittedly Robson started well, with a century against Sri Lanka. But the Sri Lankan attack is essentially Herath and that’s pretty much it. Against a more potent Indian pace attack (potent being relative here), he has looked all at sea. The question is why someone who has scored so many runs at domestic level can’t stand up to an Indian attack, let alone what the South African, Australian, or New Zealanders might do to him.
Perhaps the problem is that probably the most potent fast bowler on the County scene, Steve Finn, plays at Middlesex alongside Robson, meaning he never has to face him outside of the nets. Maybe Robson should have taken up Cricket Australia’s offer to play a season of Sheffield Shield, where he could test himself against the likes of Nathan Coulter-Nile or Pat Cummins.
The wider issue, though, is that County cricket doesn’t seem to be preparing batsmen very well for Test cricket. Very few, if any, batsmen have been able to make the step up without serious flaws in their techniques being quickly exposed (as good as Gary Ballance has been this summer, await to see how he does against better attacks). Of course, this isn’t limited to just English batsmen, as a host of Australian batsmen have had the same experience, some of whom have been able to overcome their problems and bounce back, and others are, well, Ed Cowan.
Perhaps the best example is Chris Rogers, who has played in both Australian and English domestic competitions for the best part of two decades, but it wasn’t till he came onto the Test scene it was discovered he was utterly hopeless against off-spin. The recurrence of Graeme Swann’s elbow injury and eventual retirement proved rather fortuitous in his case.
We are guessing this isn’t a problem limited to these two countries either. We know about as much about Indian domestic cricket as we do about wooing the ladies (our first date repertoire mostly revolves around stories about the 1992 World Cup) but we are going to assume that either Ravindra Jadeja’s genius is just taking its time to bloom on the Test stage, or all those domestic triple centuries are actually, well, pretty much worthless. The equivalent of unleashing Mitchell Johnson against a team of kindergartners.
If we were forced to offer a diagnosis, we would probably mumble something about crap pitches. And of national associations that are far more interested in reaping the money to be made from international fixtures than they are in properly promoting their domestic product. In truth we have no idea where the problem lies. Perhaps batsmen of yore were simply more adaptable to the demands of longer form cricket, whilst the current lot know that if they fail in the whites, they can always fall back on the shorter form stuff to make a living. Probably playing for the Sydney Thunder. Maybe the proliferation of video analysis is to blame; in ye olde times a batsmen would have a period in which to bed himself in at Test level whilst the opposition tried to figure out his weaknesses. These days there is nowhere to hide, and batsmen need to hit the ground running if they are to survive.
However the main concern, in our opinion, is that modern players simply play so much international cricket that they don’t get the chance to play enough domestic stuff to work out the kinks that develop in their technique (like Shane Watson continuously getting stuck behind that massive stupid front foot of his), whilst players in the domestic ranks are robbed of games against international standard players because they are all off playing another ODI series against India. It’s a vicious circle, and buggered if we can see an easy solution (the best sort of solution). Perhaps nations should simply be more open to sending their domestic players to play in England. It’s something Australia still do (remember Ashton Turner from the last Ashes tour? Anyone?), albeit on a limited scale. But we imagine that the Indian and West Indian boards would look at it as all simply being too much hard work. Which is a bit like how their cricketers view Test matches these days.