Last Thursday, Tom and I had the opportunity to sit down with Kent wicket-keeper batsman Ollie Robinson ahead of the new season. We asked him a wide range of questions, including his early cricketing memories, what it's like being in the same dressing room as Sam Billings and Joe Denly and his go to meal deal.
How has COVID changed your preparations for the upcoming season? Are there any changes which you prefer?
Obviously it's massively different, normally we would be in South Africa or Dubai doing a warm weather training camp for pre-season, but unfortunately we're stuck inside at the minute. The snow has also set us back with outdoor nets- we haven't been able to get outside as much as we would've liked. Overall, it's very good for 1-1 based stuff, we've got a lot more time for that with our coaching team and the bowlers have just started bowling at us. We're getting there, but it's slow progress at the moment.
Where is your favourite pre-season destination?
I really like South Africa having been twice, it’s fairly cheap once you’re out there to eat well. We’ve been to the West Indies too a few years ago and played in their 50-over competition which was good fun. South Africa is a beautiful place to bat as well as see, would fully recommend going to visit there.
Being a wicket-keeper batsman, do you find yourself spending more time on one aspect of your game in the nets or is it relatively equal?
I definitely work on my batting more. Keeping is such a hard thing to do in the indoor nets, and the most important thing for me when it comes to my keeping is getting in rhythm - being able to go outside and put in a full dive for the ball is crucial. Another key part for me is alignment - just the quantity of doing it, and it's very hard to get that indoors, with sports halls not always being the biggest. It's basically impossible to get a bowler off their full run-up indoors, so for me, it's a case of keeping it ticking over at the moment, then really ramp it up when we're able to get outside.
When you were growing up, who was your cricketing idol? What are your earliest memories of cricket when you were a child?
Cricket has always ran in my family; my dad played, my step-dad played and I was always that annoying kid that asked people to throw balls to me when they walked around the boundary. In terms of watching cricket, the '05 Ashes series was huge for me. Geraint Jones has always been my idol, and that catch he took at Edgbaston was probably the moment for me; I remember watching it in my nan's kitchen and thinking to myself "I want to do that one day". KP is obviously up there as well and I absolutely adored watching Trotty (Jonathan Trott) bat. He came and did some coaching with us at the back end of the 2019 season and that was kinda surreal for me, to be able to work with one for my cricketing idols.
With Marcus Trescothick being appointed England batting coach and Trott doing some batting coaching too, is that same pathway something you think he (Trott) can follow?
Trotty’s very good at what he does and is very knowledgeable. He’s been there and done it and been very successful. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a role down the line, whether that be with the Lions and then works his way up.
As the 2005 Ashes got you into the game and it was fully shown on free-to-air television, what impact would it have on you and others watching it then?
I was quite privileged growing up. We always had Sky when I was a kid so I never really missed out. If I wasn’t watching it at home, I’d be at the cricket club watching it there. I can see though that with not every family having access to Sky, Virgin etc it does cost a lot of money when you break it down. It’s brilliant that it is now back on free-to-air television and should grip a few people.
Have you been able to catch any of the test matches with the 4am starts?
The last few weeks we’ve been up early for training and have had to be in and out of the school training facilities before 6am so have missed it unfortunately.
With Ben Foakes coming into the side with Jos Buttler being rotated out of the bubble, he gets his opportunity to show his talent. Foakes is generally seen as the best gloveman in the country. Do you see any obvious competition for that title around the counties?
They’ve got a really good group out there, with Foakes and Bracey alongside Buttler and Bairstow. Then there’s people like myself and Ben Cox who could be in the mix too. Ollie Pope too has done a job in the past, so the future looks really bright in terms of England’s keepers.
Seeing as you've been a Kent lad throughout your career, who was your Kent idol when growing up?
For me, it's always been Geraint Jones. I guess I was kind of lucky that he was Kent based as well in a sense. I've been with Kent since I was 11, played through all the age groups, came up through the academy and came out the other side, which is quite nice. I think only two other guys from my age group got through the academy. I've also had the chance to be coached by Jones on a few occasions - I work on my keeping with him when he is around the club, so its definitely surreal to be working with one of my childhood idols. He was always around on the staff when I was 16/17, so was always able to look up to him when coming through the academy.
You were on that Lions tour with Dan Lawrence when he averaged 122 against Australia. Seeing him now playing Test cricket for England, how proud of him are you and how much confidence does that give you, knowing that if you keep performing there will be opportunities for you?
Dan's rise to Test cricket is a clear example of how if you perform well at county level and particularly at Lions level, there isn't a "closed book" approach. They will try and find opportunities for you in the team. For me, to see people come out of the county system and go on to play Test cricket is brilliant - it gives me great confidence.
Dan's an unbelievable player. He's got a level of confidence and flair about him that he uses when he plays. For example, I know he only made 40 today, but it was a very good 40, and with the way he got out, it's one of those ones where if he hits the bowler for 6, everyone's saying "what a shot". He's done incredibly well and it's so good to see him doing as well as he is, same with Zak (Crawley), they've both earned it and it's nice to see them doing well on the biggest stage. Dan looks comfortable in that environment and that comes down to the confidence he has in himself, that no challenge is too difficult for him.
What are the leadership styles of Sam Billings and Joe Denly at Kent? How much help has Sam given you in your young career thus far, seeing as he's the captain at Kent?
Sam's been amazing for me, he's helped me massively. He's always on the other end of the phone if you need to text him, so that's brilliant for me. He's very passionate about the game, you probably can tell that by listening to him on the stump mic! You can see how much he wants to win games, and sometimes people don't always buy into that, but he really wants to win games and if that means upsetting someone, he's not afraid to do it. At the end of the day, his mentality is to win, and he will do whatever it takes to help get us there. If you want to win trophies and competitions, you have to have that ruthlessness, which he definitely has in abundance.
Joe is very different to Sam in the dressing room. He's much more reserved, but he has great input. He's very similar to Jos Buttler with the England teams; when Joe speaks, people listen to him. He's amazing to have around the dressing room because he's absolutely hilarious - he's like a little kid really! I'm excited to have him around all year in the changing room (hopefully). I'd love for him to play for England again, but he's a massive boost to our team - I don't think I've managed to play a full season with him yet. He gives us great stability at 3 and he's a great character within our team.
Speaking of Sam, it was his injury that led to your breakout season last year. Did that feel weird at all for you?
God forbid I didn't want him to get injured, but it did help me progress my career. It was an opportunity that you had to take, and I was fortunate enough to get a proper run in the side and get a couple scores under my belt which helped me settle into the team. I'd like to think that I'm an established player in the team now.
Have you had the chance to play any grade cricket abroad or would you consider a domestic red ball season and what benefits could this bring to your game?
I went two years ago (2018/19) and played for Campbelltown in Sydney and absolutely loved it. I spent four months over there and training and playing on different wickets is so good for understanding where your game is at. You’ve got to fend for yourself because you haven’t got your coaches around you, you are on your own. It’s brilliant because you learn so much about cricket and about yourself too. It was the first real time I’d been away from home.
I’d like to go back, I probably will at some point. But there are so many options these days. We (Kent) have got quite good links with New Zealand having had so many Kiwi overseas players, so there’s the option to do something over there too.
Over the last 3 years or so we've seen and heard some quality stump mic moments on the international stage. Would you say you are quite vocal on the stump mic or a bit more relaxed?
I like to have a word on the stump mic, but I'm not going to be yapping every ball because it gets quite tedious. Definitely not like Rishabh Pant or Mohammed Rizwan behind the stumps, but I'm not exactly silent either!
If you had the power to change the result of one cricket match, which one would you change and why?
That's a tough one. I think I'd go for one from a selfish point of view. We were playing Gloucester in the T20 Blast 2 years ago. I came in for the final over and we needed 9 to win. I hit two off the first ball, then got bowled trying to ramp the second ball. 100%, if there's any bat on that, it's going for 4 or 6! I still have sleepless nights about it now! If we had won that game, we would've gone through to the quarter finals, so I'd definitely pick that game.
At the end of last season, you signed a new deal with Kent after the breakout year you had. Was the intention to always stay with Kent or did you look at offers from elsewhere?
First intention was always to stay with Kent. Obviously with it being my home county, I didn't really want to move too far. I've got everything here: my friends, my family and so I wasn't really willing to leave them. The biggest thing for me was opportunity and where I was gonna play the most cricket in all three formats. I actually had some offers on the table from two counties a couple years ago, but nothing developed further and I'm very fortunate to be playing for Kent. I'm very glad for it working out the way it has; Sam's injury aided me in that sense. I've always wanted to play for Kent, always will want to play for Kent, but at the end of the day, it's a career, so if it doesn't work out that way, then that's the way it's got to be I guess.
England are well known for hosting spin bowling camps quite regularly, but there doesn't seem to be the same amount of opportunities for batsmen. As a batter yourself, would you feel that you would benefit from going out to a country for 6-8 weeks?
I think they would be brilliant and I'd imagine that there would be a lot of interest from the guys to actually go on one if the opportunity came about. However, it can be quite expensive - taking 10-15 players to Australia for 6-8 weeks can be quite ineffective when it comes to the cost. They do try to get some batting camps set up and they do try and tie it in to where you will be batting for that season, just to get a gauge of what's happening in that area. I think it will happen at some point when cricket is back up and running properly post-COVID, when the finances are a bit more settled.
With COVID having a massive impact on touring places to play cricket, it's meant that there hasn't been a Lions tour opportunity since the last one to Australia. If the opportunity arose while still under the bubble restrictions, would you be open to going on tour again?
100%, I absolutely love the touring life. I've never been in the bubble lifestyle or had to be confined to my room in a proper COVID secure environment, so I can't really give a personal insight to how tough it is. Speaking to people like Joe and Sam, they've said it's been very tough to serve the quarantine periods. But, I would still be willing to tour. It's an absolutely brilliant experience, just to be with other players who are well known. I was fortunate enough to have Zak, (Dom) Sibley, (Dom) Bess, (Keaton) Jennings, (Sam) Northeast on the Lions tour. Being around players who've been there and done it at county level and are now regularly pushing for a England spot was amazing; even if I didn't play, just to learn off those guys, see the way they train, how they talk and think about the game was incredible.
Do you prefer facing a certain style of bowling in CC? Or is it quite balanced?
I prefer facing pace - you face a lot more seam bowling in England compared to spin, unless you play down at Somerset or Trent Bridge, which historically have spun more than other grounds. You've got to work out the threat early on, work out the danger ball and then try to a) eliminate that threat and b) set your game up around it. If I'm facing away swing, I might move over a bit more towards off stump, or use the depth of my crease more - something like that to try and put a bit of pressure back on the bowlers, instead of just letting them bowl at you.
Having faced Dom Bess on the county circuit, what's your gameplay when it comes to facing spinners? Is it to be aggressive early on, or a bit more conservative until you've got into a rhythm against them?
I look to try and attack spinners pretty quickly. The quicker you can put pressure back on them and make them feel uncomfortable, the better in my opinion. If you can get the field up early on, it makes life more comfortable as a batter - it's easier to rotate the strike and keep the scoreboard ticking over. If you can get an early boundary and show the bowler that you aren't here to mess around, it goes a long way.
With Mohammed Abbas and Kemar Roach being recently announced as overseas players for the summer, who would be your ideal choice for an overseas player to join Kent for this campaign?
Having had Heino Kuhn as a "Kolpak" the last few years, I think he will stay on, especially now with two overseas spots up for grabs. I’d really like Tom Latham back, or Kagiso Rabada as we have had those guys before and they were great for us.
This summer is going to be massive for the game coming out of lockdown and hopefully there are able to be fans in the ground. One new introduction for the summer is The Hundred, do you have any general thoughts on that?
I think it’ll be really good. I look forward to every year, but coming off the last 12 months, I’m looking forward to this summer even more.
I’m looking forward to playing in the 50-over competition too. It should be a good standard and give players a lot of opportunities including myself. I hope to be batting up the top of the order and will be trying to show what I’ve got to possibly get into the T20 side. We are obviously hoping to get crowds in and if possible, sell games out. If anything cricket will be viewed a lot more this summer with it being affordable, not far to travel and especially with the shorter formats, the games aren’t too long.
With The Hundred squads having the opportunity to select one extra player as a wildcard pick from The Blast, will you be approaching the Blast in a different way with a view to being picked up?
I think you’ve got to go about it as you do normally and if you get picked up that’s brilliant. But at the end of the day you won’t be selected if you don’t do well so you need to give yourself the best opportunity to get picked up. It’s important to not look too far ahead and focus on the job in hand. If you get too far ahead of yourself you may end up missing out.
Finally, what's your go to meal deal?
We have a Sainsbury's at the ground, so every Friday afternoon after training, as a sort of treat, we head in there and pick some stuff up. Sometimes I switch it up, but normally I get a ham and cheese sandwich, with a bag of Skips and a Ribena to boot. Maybe a Vanilla Coke-Zero at the end of the season, but normally Ribena is my go to drink.