Ollie Robinson has revealed how embracing life as a “gym freak” helped put his England career back on track.
Robinson made his first Test appearance in seven months at Emirates Old Trafford, helping to wrap up an innings victory over South Africa with match figures of five for 91.
The 6ft 5in seamer was all smiles as he put the finishing touch to the three-day finish in Manchester, clean bowling Lungi Ngidi in comprehensive fashion, but it took plenty of hard work and some frank conversations to reach that point.
Despite a fine record in his first year with England – he now has 44 wickets in 10 appearances at a slender average of 20.93 – Robinson’s fitness was publicly called out by bowling coach Jon Lewis during the final match of last winter’s Ashes. His was not a lone voice, instead reflecting concerns among the management about the player’s general conditioning and tendency to flag over the course of games.
Back spasms then saw him unable to take the field in all three Tests against the West Indies, while his return to county cricket with Sussex was interrupted by issues as disparate as Covid-19 and dental problems.
But the 28-year-old, prompted by Lewis’ warning and a candid discussion with new captain Ben Stokes, dedicated himself to putting things right. Now he is back winning matches for his country and with a whole new outlook.
“It’s not been easy but we’re an honest group. I took that stuff on the chin and took it as a wake-up call as well,” he said.
I took that stuff on the chin. I’ve become a bit of a gym freak, which I never thought I’d say. I wake up in the morning and I’m like ‘I’ve really got to go to the gym’
“I’ve used that to drive me forward in the last six months and, when times have got tough, I’ve just used it as a drive to try and keep positive.
“My mindset shifted from trying to be fit for fitness testing to trying to be fit for five days of Test cricket at a high level. I lifted more weights, I ran further, everything I was doing before but to the extreme.
“I spoke to Ben quite a lot in depth. When he first started international cricket he wasn’t in the shape he is now and I talked to him about how he got there – mentally, physically, the lot.
“It’s an enjoyment now. I’ve become a bit of a gym freak, which I never thought I’d say. I wake up in the morning and I’m like ‘I’ve really got to go to the gym’. Running three times a week, gymming three times a week, it’s just ingrained in me now which hopefully will help for years to come. It’s become a bit of a habit whereas before it was a chore.
“I’m not there yet, I’m not the finished article at all, but we’re well on the way to getting there hopefully.”
He also suggested Lewis’ initial intervention was effectively a case of tough love.
“People don’t realise that me and Jon go back quite a long way, he was my bowling coach at Sussex for three, four years, so we do have that honest relationship,” he explained.
“We spoke about it and moved on.”
Robinson proved himself ready for another shot at Test cricket with a promising display against the Proteas for the second string England Lions, an outing which Stokes said earned him the new ball at Old Trafford.
That meant breaking up the long-established partnership of James Anderson and Stuart Broad, a watershed moment that saw the latter waiting for his turn for the first time in years.
“I think I read it was the first time since 2013, but Stokesy said ‘don’t worry about that, do your thing’,” Robinson said.
“I wasn’t expecting it, I only got told 10 minutes before we were going out. Watching those two has been inspirational for me. That’s how I want to be. I want the crowd cheering my name and that’s what I’m driving to do.
“I don’t want to do this for 18 months, I want to do this for five, six years, and I feel more driven today than I did at the start of my career.”