Mark Robinson: Warwickshire coach on Sarah Taylor, Alex Hartley and the County Championship

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Ali Maiden and Mark Robinson
Mark Robinson (right) led England women to World Cup success in 2017

The cold is one of the things Mark Robinson hasn’t missed about county cricket.

In his former life in charge of the England women’s team, home games were at the height of summer, away games were somewhere hot.

Now, in the week of his first competitive match as Warwickshire’s head coach, snow is falling in early April.

And while the weather marks a difference between his old job and his new one, 54-year-old Robinson can also identify similarities between the two dressing rooms.

“Whether you are male or female, you want that emotional safety, the feeling of being valued and backed in your work environment,” he says.

“You have to get your head around your currency being runs and wickets, but that can’t take over your life. You can’t get obsessed with the results. You still have to be a human being.”

It was something of a coup for the women’s game when Robinson, twice a County Championship winner with Sussex, took the England job at the end of 2015.

“My first trip with England was a joint Twenty20 World Cup,” he says. “The men’s team went left to business class and we went right to economy.”

Robinson was in charge when England lifted the 50-over World Cup at Lord’s in 2017. His exit, two years later, came about after a heavy Ashes defeat by Australia.

Now, as he returns to the men’s game full-time, he comes with what he has learned from the “best time” of his life.

“I’d been in the male, chauvinistic game for 35 years,” says Robinson. “With the women I saw inequality and tokenism where I hadn’t previously.

“The women properly played for the love. It wasn’t spoiled by money, agents and all those things. There was a humbleness that was enriching, a desire to be the best they can.

“I’m not saying that isn’t in the men’s game, but there are lessons that can be taken.”

It is timely for such an advocate of the women’s game to be re-entering the male version and Robinson acknowledges he has a responsibility to “keep banging the drum for the women”.

Comparing the women’s game to the men’s is rarely helpful, but there have been two recent high-profile examples of the worlds colliding; one positively, one less so.

Former England wicketkeeper Sarah Taylor, who effectively came out of retirement to play for Welsh Fire in The Hundred on Tuesday, had already previously been confirmed as a member of the Sussex men’s coaching team for the coming season.

And while Taylor will primarily focus on working with keepers, Robinson sees no reason why a woman can’t take a more senior post in the men’s game.

“Of course they can,” he says. “There shouldn’t be any barriers other than your knowledge and experience.

“Her challenge, as it is for any coach, will be getting her message across to the players.

“Sarah Taylor and the likes of Tammy Beaumont and Anya Shrubsole would be fine coaches or administrators, whatever they want to be. What they need is the right support.”

The announcement of Taylor’s role at Sussex came a couple of weeks after a Twitter storm surrounding her former England team-mate Alex Hartley.

In promoting coverage of an England women’s game in New Zealand, Hartley made light of the men’s two-day defeat in the third Test against India. Replies from Rory Burns and Ben Duckett were the tip of iceberg for Hartley, who revealed she had a message telling her to “die in a hole”.

“The Hartley incident was typical,” says Robinson. “I know her really well and I know how upset she was.

“She loves the men’s game and supporting England. She made a comment that was taken out of context and some people piled in on her, which was wrong and unfair.”

Both Hartley and Taylor were World Cup winners under Robinson, who admits he “didn’t see” his 2019 England departure coming.

Unemployed for the first time since the age of 18, the former Northants, Yorkshire and Sussex seamer spent time with the England deaf team, worked as a consultant for various first-class counties and dabbled in some lecturing.

When Covid hit in the spring of 2020, the phone rang less frequently and the latter part of last summer was spent doing private coaching work with clients ranging from 11 to 55 years old.

Before he landed the Warwickshire job in January, Robinson was offered a post in New Zealand, but was denied a work permit because of the pandemic.

He says he would “love” to return to the women’s game at some point in the future, but his new focus is on bringing success to Edgbaston, starting with Thursday’s Championship opener against Derbyshire.

“This is the best period, then everything starts for real,” says Robinson.

“I’m aware this is the honeymoon. I haven’t picked or dropped a player and we are unbeaten since last season.”

Only five counties have won the Championship more times than the Bears, but no major trophy since 2016 can be seen as a pretty barren run for the team that dominated the domestic game in the mid-1990s.

There is something of a transition going on in Birmingham, too. Robinson and relatively new captain Will Rhodes are leading a side without retired stalwarts Ian Bell, Tim Ambrose and Jeetan Patel.

Not that any of this deters Robinson, a coach accustomed to silverware.

“We’ll win,” he says. “I can’t guarantee when, but we’re going to win.”

Every ball of every county match will be available to listen to via the BBC Sport website and app.

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