Ollie Robinson’s England suspension is the right move by the ECB

The player’s place in the Test side has become temporarily untenable and the culture secretary Oliver Dowden is doing him no favours in making him a poster boy in culture war

One Test into the summer and English cricket already finds itself under siege. Were it simply criticism of the national team’s lack of ambition with the bat on the final day at Lord’s, it could at least be blocked out like Dom Sibley shovelling one off his pads.

The far trickier delivery faced right now is the fallout from Ollie Robinson’s unacceptable past postings on Twitter, with the England and Wales Cricket Board on Sunday evening announcing his suspension from international duty pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation.

On Monday this prompted the culture secretary Oliver Dowden to take to social media himself, first stating that Robinson’s tweets were “offensive and wrong” before the kicker: “[they] are also a decade old and written by a teenager. The teenager is now a man and has rightly apologised. The ECB has gone over the top by suspending him and should think again.”

While the prime minister’s office said Boris Johnson supports this sentiment, the ECB has thus far chosen not to respond. But even if you ignore the fact that Dowden’s boss has previous here, the move to stand Robinson down for the foreseeable – essentially Thursday’s second Test, given they intend to move reasonably quickly – was not, on the face of it, an unreasonable one to take.

If nothing else, Robinson’s place was approaching untenable on a practical level. We already know from what was an impressive debut cricket-wise that he can cope with the spotlight turned up to full beam but his ongoing presence still threatened to distract the team as they look to beat this impressive New Zealand side.

The ECB also had little choice but to act after lining up the players at Lord’s before the start of the first Test for a “moment of unity” wearing T-shirts that bore slogans rejecting various forms of discrimination. After Robinson’s statement later that day, delivered with a haunted look, came another from the ECB chief executive, Tom Harrison, that scarcely concealed his anger and cited “zero tolerance”.

The governing body could not then brush off the issue and in doing so create an instant statute of limitations on racist and sexist tweets. Aged 18 and 19 when those “jokes” were posted, Robinson was old enough to vote, buy a beer, serve on a jury or go to war. He may well have changed since but, whatever the minister says, he was an adult back then.

In suspending Robinson the ECB has essentially given itself time to work through its own regulations – plus the player’s then status as an out-of-season academy player at Kent – in order to establish whether the matter falls under the auspices of its “at-arms-length” Cricket Discipline Commission or the governing body itself.

It was not, as Dowden would seemingly have it, the actual punishment for the tweets Robinson wrote less than a decade ago, rather what many employers would do in such instances: ask the individual to step away for a spell so all parties can discuss the matter further, establish the full picture and find out how the person back then differs from the person today.

Those close to Robinson at Sussex do say he has come a long way since his teens and, as far as we know, he has not pushed back on the ECB’s holding position. Naturally there will be distress at losing the chance to back up his seven-wicket performance at the first opportunity, but he has apologised to his teammates, shown contrition and is said to have pledged to continue bettering himself.

Dowden’s intervention therefore does Robinson few favours, instead making him a poster boy for one side of the ongoing culture war. Perhaps the issue here was the use of the word “suspension” in the ECB’s statement, which has been taken (perhaps wilfully by some) as the punishment having already been handed down.

Rewind to the infamous Bristol fight in 2017 and, following footage being published by the Sun newspaper, the ECB stated that both Ben Stokes and Alex Hales “will not be considered for selection for England international matches until further notice”. Similar wording again on Sunday evening might have better.

The Stokes/Hales affair is also the closest cricket has to a precedent. Stokes was given an eight-match ban and fined £30,000 but included in this were two matches and half of the money for a video of the all-rounder impersonating the disabled son of Katie Price which the Daily Express published during the aftermath.

Whatever the sanction, Robinson won’t have been “cancelled” as some are now claiming. His temporary exclusion from the England squad right now is highly unlikely to be the end of an international career that has started so brightly and he is also free to play for Sussex in the meantime.

It’s worth remembering too that there is a wider context to all this, not least on the subject of race and racism. For a start the professional game does not remotely reflect the demographics of those playing the sport recreationally.

And there has been a tide of complaints about English cricket’s recent past, be it the allegation of institutional racism from former umpires John Holder and Ismail Dawood, the probe into Azeem Rafiq’s time at Yorkshire (something that is proving more glacial than England’s batting at Lord’s), or the experiences of professional cricket that Michael Carberry shared last year. Robinson may be drawing the focus right now but the sport’s issues remain far greater.


Ali Martin

The GuardianTramp

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