Sydney: England are in the habit of scouring abroad for their talent and now they are on their way to pinching a player from Australia.
The man who could end up wearing England`s three lions rather than Australia`s baggy green in future Ashes series is Sydney grade batsman Sam Robson - an opener who has never played for New South Wales, but turned heads at Middlesex in England`s county competition this year.
In a breakthrough season, the 22-year-old Sydneysider, with Australian and British passports through his Nottingham-born mother, crunched 903 runs from 12 games at a princely average of 53, including two centuries.
England honours are still a long way off but according to a leading daily, Robson`s performances have at least one astute judge, former England Test paceman Angus Fraser, comparing him with Mike Atherton, while England captain Andrew Strauss is also said to be a huge fan.
Fraser, Middlesex`s cricket director, described Robson as an ``old-fashioned type, a dogged opener`` who likes to bat for long periods.
``You`ve always got to be careful about what you say but he`s slightly Mike Atherton-ish in his attitude and what he`s looking to do.`` Fraser said.
``His mannerisms and his attitude to batting and the way that he plays, he`s got that sort of mentality.`` he said.
The highlight of Robson`s season came a few weeks ago when he shared in a 231-run opening stand with Strauss against Leicestershire at the home of cricket, Lord`s, though he was forced to retire on 101 after being struck in the face.
``The England captain likes him, he`s been very impressed with his mentality, attitude and the way that he plays,`` Fraser said.
Fraser added: ``He`s made some very positive comments … even before they put on over 200 for the first wicket. Strauss rates him highly.``
Robson, who has played for Australia at under-19 level, is not unknown to NSW cricket.
He plays grade cricket with Eastern Suburbs and will do so again this season when he returns to Sydney next month. He was rookie-contracted as a teenager and his father Jim is a former state selector and runs Cricket NSW`s indoor centre at the SCG.
Despite his rich Blues heritage, Robson, then 18, tried his luck in England in 2008 and was referred to Middlesex by his Easts teammate Tim Murtagh and was offered a contract by the county.
Sensing his opportunities were limited in NSW, where he was behind Simon Katich, Phil Jaques, Phillip Hughes and Usman Khawaja, he left.
A similar logjam awaits Robson this summer when he returns to Sydney next month.
``He`d certainly be in the mix for state cricket but, if he made the decision to come back, he`d be by no means a walk-up start,`` NSW`s chairman of selectors, David Freedman, said.
``I wouldn`t see him starting in front of those guys, by any stretch,`` Freedman added.
Although Robson has made no decision on his international future, his medium-term future lies in England.
He loves life in London and said playing every second week at Lord`s was a ``dream``.
He said playing with Victoria`s run machine, Chris Rogers, and Strauss, in particular, was a ``real eye-opener``.
Robson recently signed a two-year deal tying him to Middlesex until 2013 and Fraser wants to see him remain in the English system for a while longer than that.