Ollie Robinson returns for England’s must-win second Test against South Africa on Thursday with Ben Stokes, his captain, insisting any team would be lucky to have him.
The Sussex seamer was the breakout star of last summer, taking 28 wickets at 19 runs in his first five Tests and removing Virat Kohli three times, only for his physical conditioning to let him down during the winter’s doomed Ashes campaign and prompt a seven-month England absence.
Seemingly fit again and fresh from five wickets against South Africa for the Lions a fortnight ago, Robinson represents the one change to England’s XI after the innings defeat at Lord’s – he replaces Matt Potts in the attack – as Stokes’s side look to level the series in Manchester and set up a decider at the Oval.
Stokes said: “I’m very excited for him to be able to put the England shirt on again, and it’s something that he’s worked very hard for and he fully deserves it.”
An Old Trafford pitch that traditionally offers bounce was cited the chief reason for the switch with Stokes and Brendon McCullum, the head coach, otherwise showing loyalty to the lineup that lost 20 wickets in 82.4 overs; Zak Crawley, subject of much debate during a flatlining summer at the top of the order, goes again.
Robinson knows a bit about this level of scrutiny after finding himself a passenger during the Hobart Test because of back spasms and receiving a blunt public appraisal of his fitness from the bowling coach, Jon Lewis. Stokes, who has since taken over as captain, stayed in touch with the 6ft 5in right‑armer during the resulting spell in the wilderness.
Stokes said: “I think it’s obviously been a very difficult time for Ollie because it wasn’t the fact that his form was letting him down, it was his body.
“I was very honest and truthful with Robbo. I feel that’s something people deserve; rather than just have a conversation to get through it easy, I’d rather let him know exactly where I stand. It enables him to go away and work on what has been asked of him. All I can say is he’s done that to the absolute extreme.
“[And] I told him that any team that he plays for is very lucky to have him because he what he possesses as a bowler. So, as I said, I’m very excited. He thoroughly deserves this. And I can’t wait for him to go out there and show what it’s all about.”
On Potts, the 23-year-old Durham seamer who picked up 20 wickets in his first five Tests, Stokes said: “It’s very tough for Matty to miss out but what he’s done in the five games is take himself from a county cricketer with a lot of promise, to really announcing himself on the big stage.
“We’ve got to give him a lot of credit, handling the decision so professionally at such a young age. Selection was based around what we thought was the best bowling attack to suit this particular ground and he completely understood.”
South Africa, meanwhile, appear likely to be unchanged even if Dean Elgar, their captain, has included Simon Harmer in his 12-man matchday squad.
The off-spinner spun Essex to victory at Old Trafford this summer with figures of five for 89 but Elgar was hugely enthused by the prospect of the surface assisting his four-pronged pace attack and has Keshav Maharaj at his disposal for later in the match.
Elgar is looking to win his fourth series as South Africa’s full-time captain at the earliest opportunity and maintain their position at the top of the World Test Championship. It would be a statement of sorts, with Cricket South Africa having cut the number of Test fixtures their men’s team play in the period 2023 to 2027.
“From my point of view, I would love to be playing more,” Elgar said, when asked about this. “There are reasons why it has happened. I’m not here to speak about this in depth – I’ll get into hot water for saying something I’m not supposed to say – but I’m sure the guys would love to be playing more Test cricket for South Africa.”