Sussex supporters have got used to not seeing much of Jofra Archer during his meteoric rise to England stardom in the last few years.
But irony of ironies, it might be Archer rather than his erstwhile new-ball partner Ollie Robinson whom they could be watching when supporters are – fingers crossed – allowed back into the 1st Central County Ground, at the end of May.
Archer began his recovery from elbow and finger injuries by joining his Sussex team-mates in the Hove nets this week.
A decision on whether he goes to the IPL to play for Rajasthan Royals hasn’t been made but it’s reasonable to assume that he might prepare for what will be the busiest and most intense 12 months of his career – which includes a T20 World Cup and Ashes series – by playing a few LV Insurance County Championship matches for Sussex instead of heading to India.
England are due to play the first of two Tests against New Zealand on Wednesday 2 June and because of the schedule facing players like Archer, who is centrally contracted for Test and one-day cricket, head coach Chris Silverwood is bound to continue his rotation policy, especially if his players are still in covid-secure bubbles for all or part of the international summer.
And that could mean an opportunity for Robinson, whose domestic performances over the last few seasons certainly deserve an England call.
Since 2018 he has taken 174 first-class wickets, a staggeringly good record even before you remember that in 2020 he only played five games because the season was abbreviated by the pandemic.
Robinson has been on England’s radar since an impressive A tour to Australia at the start of last year when he demonstrated that he doesn’t just take wickets in English conditions.
He has been in and around the England bubble since and is definitely among the candidates to take over from James Anderson when he finally retires, probably after he has another crack at the Aussies this winter.
Already this season Robinson has picked up 15 wickets in two games at an average of 13.13 including a career-best 9 for 78 on a flat Cardiff pitch last weekend in Sussex’s impressive win over Glamorgan.
It will clearly be a step against a New Zealand team who will be preparing for the World Test Championship final in mid-June, but the 27-year-old believes he is ready.
“I’ve been with England for 18 months here and there and I feel like I am ready for Test cricket,” he said. “I have just got to wait for my chance.
“I have worked really hard to take wickets using different skills on flat pitches so I am not pigeon-holed as an English conditions bowler and I can do it all over the world.”
Sussex are prepared to lose Robinson at some stage of the summer, but coach Ian Salisbury is relaxed about the prospect. After all, their raison d’etre is to produce players for England.
The win in Wales wasn’t just about Robinson. Aaron Thomason, given an opportunity to open after impressing in pre-season and with Phil Salt absent with a broken foot, scored two half-centuries while Stiaan van Zyl showed his class with a century.
All of which has made this week’s game at Hove against Yorkshire an early top-of-the-table battle and, with England captain Joe Root in the opposition ranks, another opportunity for Robinson to show he is ready to take the next step.
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