Paul Farbrace sat transfixed to his TV as Ollie Robinson produced the performance of his life to bowl out India at Headingley and become player of the third Test.
‘It was a real pinch yourself moment,’ the former England assistant coach and now director of cricket at Warwickshire tells Sportsmail. I was thinking, “I can’t believe I’m watching you bowling for England after all the bumps in the road, let alone bowling like this”. There were times I wondered if he’d even have a career in first-class cricket.’
It was not just the coach and England fan in Farbrace that appreciated the immaculate display of swing and seam bowling that tore the heart out of the India batting and confirmed Robinson as England’s find of the summer. The highly experienced and respected Farbrace is also Robinson’s step-father and husband of mum Sandra.
Former England coach Paul Farbrace (above) is the stepfather of England’s Ollie Robinson
Robinson produced a sensational display in England’s third Test victory over India
‘We were at home on Saturday cheering every wicket,’ says Farbrace. ‘But after about 40 minutes I said to Sandra, “They should take Oliver off now. He’s getting a bit wide, a bit loopy and floaty with his action. He’s not hitting the seam as much”.
‘But at that moment he got Virat Kohli out and it went on from there until he’d taken five wickets. Just shows what I know! Joe Root was absolutely right to keep him on.’
Farbrace smiles at the biggest moment in what has been an extraordinary ride. ‘This is a very proud time for all the family,’ says Farbrace. ‘Oliver’s mum must have watched his player of the match interview on Sky about 50 times now! But there have been so many hurdles along the way — and he’s needed a pole vault to get over some of them.
‘There has been a lot of growing up. In some cases his problems have been because of mistakes he’s made as a young man, others have been through naivety and others because he hasn’t been as understood and looked after in cricket as he could have been. But he’s always had this self-belief.’
Robinson starred in England’s third Test win vs India at Headingley with five wickets
Robinson, now 27, was released as a teenager by his native Kent by, of all people, the man who would go on to become his step-father. He was then sacked mid-season by Yorkshire and was even once on the brink of being released by Sussex before Mark Robinson and Jason Gillespie turned him into a star.
But it was on the day of his Test debut against New Zealand earlier this summer, after he had overcome all those setbacks, that Robinson experienced his biggest crisis when offensive tweets he had sent as a teenager emerged. Farbrace is open about the issue.
‘We were all there at Lord’s,’ he says. ‘Oliver’s dad with his partner, Sandra and I, his girlfriend Lauren with their little one Sienna, and it was fantastic to see him playing for England. But from 3pm it turned into an absolute nightmare.’
The tweets leaked out at the worst possible time. ‘It was impossible for Oliver to defend any of it and we couldn’t defend him ourselves,’ says Farbrace. ‘The ECB had to do the right thing in suspending him. We understood that.
‘But a lot of people supported him too because they know him. He was hugely embarrassed, everyone was, and we just wanted the whole thing to go away.
‘He could have come out on that second day and gone nowhere. But the Lord’s crowd were fantastic and he got through that game and did well with bat and ball. That showed his strength of character because it could have been the end for him.’
Farbrace watched on as Robinson went from a Twitter scandal to being the star of the show
Instead the affair helped make Robinson. ‘He spent a long time after that reflecting on where he was at as a bloke,’ says Farbrace. ‘He knew he’d done wrong. He knew he had to do something about it and that’s an ongoing process.
‘He knows he’s got a lot of making up to do. He’s also got to keep making good decisions. He’s showing he’s capable of that. There has been a lot of maturing, especially now he’s a dad.
‘What it did do was show people in the dressing room he’s capable of playing international cricket and capable of dealing with everything the game throws at you. He’s been excellent in these last couple of games. He won’t give it up without a fight now.’
Robinson really has been on a rollercoaster ride. Farbrace talked Sportsmail through it. ‘I was involved in one of his first big setbacks when we took him off our academy at Kent. He had been a batsman and off-spinner as a kid but he shot up above 6ft and we persuaded him to bowl seam. But we just didn’t think he was prepared to knuckle down.
‘Then when I was second team coach at Yorkshire we went to Barbados on a pre-season tour. Sandra and Oliver came and I said to him one day, “Come and have a bowl in the nets, we haven’t got any practice bowlers”. So he came along and bowled well.
‘But the next day I said to him, “Come and have another bowl” and he said, “No, I’m tired. I’m going to stay by the pool with my mum”. Fair enough, he was there on holiday, but that was where he was at then. That summed him up in the early days.’
Yorkshire did not give up on the young Robinson. ‘We were living in Leeds and Oliver was playing for Lightcliffe in the Bradford League, teaching himself how to bowl seam, when a gap came up in our second team. Dizzy (Gillespie) got him into the T20 team from there.
‘He was offered a contract by Yorkshire but the following season Martyn Moxon took him off the staff. They didn’t think he was professional enough. There was no one incident. It was just lots of little things, his timekeeping, cutting corners.
‘Trouble was, he never showed people he wanted it enough because he’s very laid-back. He has always wanted to play but he’s been reluctant to put himself out there in case it didn’t work. He was also more homesick at Yorkshire than I realised.’
A corner was turned at Hove. ‘Oliver didn’t really go well with Mark Davis as coach and then had a few injuries and missed a fair bit of cricket. But Gillespie took over and said to him, “I know you can bowl. Let’s forget what happened at Yorkshire”. Oliver had grown up by then and Dizzy is a brilliant man-manager. Carl Hopkinson, Mark Robinson and Dizzy deserve so much credit for helping turn him into the player he is today.’
A player who has taken to England duty to the manor born. ‘When I hear him talking about how much he’s learning from Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, and picking up wobble seam from Jimmy in a week, I can understand that because he has always been a proper cricket badger,’ says Farbrace.
‘He sees every game on TV and would say to me, “I’ve been watching so and so, how does he do that with the ball?” and things like that.
‘He does genuinely believe he’s good and you have to have that in international cricket. If you have any self-doubts the game eats you up. The best players have a bit of an edge, something that makes them a bit different.
‘It’s been a hell of a journey from when I first started working with him at 15 or 16 to where he’s got to.
‘It’s his resilience, absolute desire to play for England and be the best he can be that drives him on. I’m not saying he will play 50 or 100 Tests but every time he plays for England he’ll be desperate to win and won’t take a backward step.’