Cricket Australia must do whatever it takes to recruit prolific Middlesex batsman Sam Robson. They should offer the Australian-born-and-raised opener a guaranteed national contract and, at a minimum, a spot in Australia’s Ashes squad for the return series starting in November.
Difficult times demand drastic measures. When Phil Hughes, Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja are the young batsmen deemed best equipped for Test cricket, how can CA not do everything possible to secure a 24-year-old who is the leading run scorer in county cricket this season?
Circumspect yet assertive at the crease, Robson possesses a pure technique which helps him score freely either square of the wicket or down the ground.
A specialist in the longest form of the game, he is content to brave the new ball before unfurling more expansive strokes once well set.
In other words, he is exactly what Australia so desperately requires – a composed top order batsman who prioritises long stints in the middle over flashy but truncated innings.
It is being interpreted by some as a fait accompli Robson will choose to represent England instead of his home country.
But Australia is arguably in the stronger position to land Robson considering they can offer him immediate opportunities to play international cricket, not to mention the riches which accompany such appearances.
The former Australian under-19 player has dual-citizenship due to his English mother and recently was quoted as saying he was satisfied with life in London.
Robson will qualify to represent England next year and has indicated he would cherish the chance to play Test cricket for the Poms.
But, despite his 986 runs at an average of 70 in county cricket this season, Robson faces a colossal challenge to break into the England Test lineup.
Veteran stars Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen are entrenched in England’s top order. Barring serious injury, all three will likely remain in the side for at least another three years.
That would leave Robson to battle for the one remaining spot in England’s top four with incumbent opener Joe Root, the man who Root recently usurped Nick Compton, and Warwickshire’s Varun Chopra.
The sense I get from English media and cricket followers is that Robson would be fourth in line for that position at best.
Given he rarely plays limited overs cricket – just 12 games for Middlesex in five seasons – Robson almost certainly would not earn a lucrative contract with the English Cricket Board until he became a regular member of England’s Test team.
This is the situation CA must exploit. It should take a punt and assure Robson he would feature in the next round of national contracts.
Robson is known to be concerned that should he play Sheffield Shield, cricket’s laws dictate he would forfeit his ability to continue to compete for Middlesex in his current role.
No doubt, a large part of that concern would relate to the loss of the superior income offered by his county club.
His other major worry is that as a Shield player, he would be afforded a maximum of 10 first-class matches a season, six less than he can play for Middlesex in an English summer.
Both of these issues would surely fade in significance should CA grant him a juicy national contract and a spot in the next Ashes squad.
Robson’s pedigree is unquestioned. He has compiled 3657 first-class runs at an average of 43, including eight tons from his 53 matches.
His last two seasons for Eastern Suburbs in Sydney’s first grade competition have reaped 1054 runs at an average of 50, including five tons.
Of course, such impressive accomplishments do not assure Robson of success in Test cricket.
Recruiting him would be similar to securing a top-10 draft pick in the AFL – his pedigree and talent suggest he should perform strongly at the highest level, but there are no guarantees he will fulfil that potential.
However, Australia’s list of budding Test batsmen is so short that the addition of a player of Robson’s ilk would be a boon.
A glance at the Australia A batting lineup against South Africa A last week should illustrate just how badly he is needed.
In that match, Australia fielded makeshift openers Shaun Marsh and Aaron Finch, both of whom have struggled to maintain their State positions in recent seasons.
Meanwhile, bits-and-pieces all-rounders Glenn Maxwell and Moises Henriques batted in the top six.
Australia’s current Test opening pair, Chris Rogers and Shane Watson, both have significant doubts surrounding their future, the former because of his age, the latter because of his continued underperformance.
It is not difficult to imagine Robson lining up for Australia in the return Ashes series down under later this year as part of a revamped batting lineup.
Who knows, in such a scenario he may even stride to the pitch alongside his Middlesex opening partner Rogers.
Robson’s credentials manifestly are the equal of any Australian batsman aged under 25. Cricket Australia cannot let the old enemy steal him away.