The day’s play was a half-hour old when Ollie Robinson came on to bowl, first change at the Nursery End. The applause was loud and conspicuous, an unexpected show of support for a man who surely must have been worried how the crowd were going to react to him.
In a lot of ways the situation in front of him now was pretty similar to the one he had faced when he was bowling the previous evening. Devon Conway and Henry Nicholls were still in, their partnership up to 160 now. In others, of course, it was a lot more challenging. The few hours between that spell and this one were probably some of the most gruelling through which he had lived.
His first day as a Test player had been irrevocably soured by the exposure of the racist, sexist “jokes” he had made on Twitter nine years ago; the pride and happiness he and his family must have felt at what he had just achieved replaced, as he said himself, by a powerful sense of shame and regret about the mistakes made when he was in his late teens. He will not want to keep the clippings.
Robinson had apologised to his teammates in the dressing room after stumps on Wednesday evening and to everyone else in a statement he read out during his press conference moments later. It was well said, full and unflinching, but it would have been better if he had chosen the words himself rather than read them off the sheet in front of him. Still. He had said his bit, now he would just have to listen while everyone else said theirs in the papers, on social media, radio and TV, and in the conversations going around the ground. The hum of the crowd must have made it sound as though everyone was talking about him.
And a lot of them were. The one thing everyone agreed on is that what he said was grotesque; beyond that the spectrum of views ran from one extreme to the other. Since writing about it yesterday I have heard from people who think he should have been dropped from this match, even banned from ever playing for England again, and others who argue that the way he has been shamed in the last few hours was already too much, and that he deserves to be forgiven for things he wrote when he was a teenager. Wherever you sit on it, his character has been stripped, to be picked over by people who know him only from what they learned in these last few hours.
And that is his own damn fault for ever thinking, and saying, those things, and for leaving them up there on his Twitter feed all these years even after doing all that “work and education” he said he had done with England, Sussex and the Professional Cricketers Association.
That was all beyond fixing now. In the meantime there was only one thing he could do. So he took the ball, turned and began his easy, rhythmical, run in to the crease. Joe Root worked him hard. Robinson had bowled 16 overs the previous day, in three spells.
Here he went from 11.30am right through to lunch, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight overs, and on again after it, one, two, three, more. He lost himself in the work, which must, after all, have seemed a simple, straightforward business compared with everything else he had been dealing with overnight. He was bowling well, tight, three runs from his first over, one from his second, one from his fourth.
Robinson settled into playing the straight man to Mark Wood, who was tearing in from the pavilion. They dovetailed well. Wood had Nicholls caught on the hook by Robinson, and BJ Watling caught at slip soon after. Then Robinson got Colin de Grandhomme lbw to a ball that jutted back in at him. In the next over Wood got Mitchell Santner caught at short extra. Between them they had taken four wickets for six runs in 52 balls and turned the innings, so a match that was drifting away from England was all of a sudden heading back their way.
After lunch Robinson dismissed Kyle Jamieson too, his fourth wicket of the innings. If Stuart Broad had only held on to a catch off Tim Southee at mid-on moments later, he would have had five and a spot on the Lord’s honours board.
There is not much else Robinson can do for now. Well as he handled the ball, he has lost control over where his career goes from here. The ECB is still considering how to punish him and is planning to make an announcement about it at the end of this match. In the meantime he has three days to get on with the job, and beyond them, start on the even harder one of proving that he really has moved on.