‘I’ve become a gym freak!’: Ollie Robinson reveals how copying skipper Ben Stokes’ fitness regime got him back in the Test groove
- Ollie Robinson revealed his obsession with the gym improved his Test cricket
- Robinson took guidance on fitness in the gym from England captain Ben Stokes
- A leaner Robinson was critical to the hosts’ second Test win over South Africa
As Ollie Robinson helped polish off South Africa’s tail on a raucous Saturday afternoon in Manchester, it was hard not to think back to his previous experience in an England shirt.
On a dark evening at Hobart in January, he had been bowled first ball, backing away against Pat Cummins, to confirm a 4-0 win for Australia. It looked bad — and things soon got worse, as England’s bowling coach Jon Lewis publicly upbraided him over his fitness.
Seven months on, a leaner, fitter Robinson applied his own coup de grace, rounding off a new-ball spell of three for three in 10 balls by bowling Lungi Ngidi for a duck, and hurrying England to a series-squaring innings win.
Ollie Robinson has said his obsession with the gym made him fitter and better at Test cricket
But the contrast with the Ashes went deeper than the result. Having taken on board Lewis’s criticism, Robinson had gone away and become what he calls a ‘gym freak’.
At Old Trafford, Ben Stokes rewarded him with the new ball, depriving Stuart Broad of the role for the first time at home since 2013. Stokes told him not to worry about that, and to be himself.
Above all, then, the second Test felt like a glimpse of the future, and Robinson spoke later of the inspiration he drew from watching Broad and Jimmy Anderson — and how he wants a piece of it himself.
‘That’s how I want to be,’ he said. ‘I want the crowd cheering my name. It’s been a tough six months with injury and a few doubts about myself, but I worked really hard, probably the hardest I’ve ever worked before, to get back to this point.
Robinson said following the fitness regime of England captain Ben Stokes improved his game
‘I was chuffed to be in this squad before the first Test, and to play this one I was over the moon. It’s just great to be back and that winning feeling…you can’t beat it.’
Robinson’s skill as a bowler has never been the issue: even after the Ashes, his 39 Test wickets had come at 21 apiece. But his attitude to fitness had driven England potty. When they left out Broad and Anderson from the West Indies tour earlier this year, they had hoped Robinson would step up.
Instead, back spasms turned his trip into a write-off. Stokes intervened, advising Robinson on how he had got into shape at the start of his own career — ‘mentally, physically, the lot’.
Robinson explained: ‘My mindset shifted from trying to be fit for fitness-testing, to trying to be fit for five days of Test cricket.
‘I lifted more weights, I ran further — everything I was doing before I just took to the extreme, like Ben said. ‘That’s made me feel a lot stronger in my body, and given me a lot more confidence that I can play international cricket — not just one game in a series, but game after game.’
In Manchester, Robinson was several miles per hour quicker than last summer. Crucially, he kept his pace up during his second and third spells. And although he described Lewis’s comments as a ‘wake-up call’, he insisted they came from a good place.
‘I think people don’t realise that Jon and I go back quite a long way. He was my bowling coach at Sussex for three or four years, so we do have that honest relationship, where we can say what we feel. We spoke about it, moved on and it drove me for the last six months to get to this place today.’
It has been a while since Robinson’s narrative has been able to move on from the unpleasant tweets that were unearthed during his Test debut last summer, and from the fitness problems that dogged his winter.
Robinson was a critical piece of England’s dominant performance over visitors South Africa
But, at the age of 28, he sounds like a man who believes he has finally turned a corner. ‘I had a point in Manchester when I was fielding at mid-off and I thought, “I don’t just want to do this for 18 months — I want to do it for five, six years”.
‘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. It’s become a bit of a habit, whereas before it was a chore.
‘Running three times a week, gymming three times a week, it’s just ingrained in me now. I’m not there yet, I’m not the finished article at all, but hopefully we’re well on the way to getting there.’
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