After racist and sexist tweets from fast bowler Ollie Robinson were discovered during his Test debut against New Zealand, the England and Wales Cricket Board now face a tough call on how they sanction him.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this for the ECB. After an enduringly tough winter, Wednesday was the new dawn.
For the first time since the 2019 Ashes, crowds were allowed to watch Test cricket in the flesh. The sun was beating down on a picturesque Lord’s, and a mammoth seven-Test summer was officially underway.
By the end of the day, however, the game’s governing body were left angry, frustrated and now, in a decidedly tough position.
Robinson, who excelled with the ball on his first day of international cricket, would walk off the ground into an oncoming storm.
Just as he was taking the wickets of Tom Latham and Ross Taylor, tweets dating back to 2012 and 2013 surfaced online and revealed a series of racist and sexist comments. Robinson was 18 and 19 when he sent the tweets, and he made an unreserved apology immediately after play.
But the timing could not have been worse.
Earlier in the day, England players had made a public stance for unity and worn t-shirts denouncing the very discriminatory tweets Robinson had made.
“We stand together against racism”, some of the t-shirts stated.
“We stand together against sexism”, others read.
That wasn’t lost on anyone.
“If you are going to wear T-shirts about online hate and online abuse and sexism and racism, then you can’t be doing this. It’s just not good enough, it’s just not on,” former England skipper Nasser Hussain said on Sky Cricket post-play.
ECB chief Tom Harrison’s anger was palpable even through a written statement.
“I do not have the words to express how disappointed I am that an England Men’s player has chosen to write tweets of this nature, however long ago that might have been,” he said. “Any person reading those words, particularly a woman or person of colour, would take away an image of cricket and cricketers that is completely unacceptable. We are better than this.”
Not only has Robinson let himself down but at a wider level, undone work the ECB is trying to do in this space.
A “full investigation” is now underway.
Harrison has said they have a “zero-tolerance stance to any form of discrimination”.
So how exactly do the ECB punish Robinson for something he did eight or nine years ago?
Robinson’s age (when he sent the tweets) and the length of time since it happened will likely come into their decision-making.
But to what extent?
Interestingly, the 27-year-old’s county, Sussex, said his age “did not excuse the content of these tweets in any way”.
Hussain weighed up the difficultly of the situation.
“I think we are probably a bit of a cruel society if we don’t realise that an 18-year-old does make mistakes and he has made mistakes and he’s made it horribly wrong and he’s fronted up,” he said.
“(But) it does not make it right in any way; I’ve read the tweets, I’ve seen the tweets, they are horrible, they are not right and you should never say those things whether you are 18 or 28.”
Early in his career Robinson played under Jason Gillespie at Yorkshire but was let go in 2014 due to “unprofessional” conduct.
They later reunited at Sussex, where the Aussie quick coached until the end of last season.
“Back at Yorkshire, there were some issues with professionalism. It was a timing thing, really. If he was there now he’d be flying,” Gillespie told The Guardian in April.
“But back then he was a young bloke away from where he grew up and maybe a touch naive. When we crossed paths again at Sussex he was a very different individual and, hand on heart, I can say it has been a privilege to see how he had matured and turned himself into a Test-quality bowler.”
The situation raises an interesting hypothetical: had the ECB found these tweets before his debut (due diligence some have argued should have occurred anyway) how would they have handled it? We’ll never know, but what’s clear now is that they need to act.
The sensitivities around these issues have rightly heightened in recent times.
The ECB’s sanction will be equated — unfairly or otherwise — to how serious they take the issue, something that perhaps doesn’t bode well for Robinson.