Time for Matt Parkinson in the England Test side? | Is it time for the England selectors to pick Matt Parkinson in the England Test team
“Sack it, I’m going to try and rip it.”
That was Matt Parkinson’s take on his “ball-of-the-century” – which drew praise from the original proprieter of that accolade, Shane Warne – to dismiss Northamptonshire’s Adam Rossington.
Parkinson started the 2021 English domestic season wanting to “prove a point”. However, with snow showers sweeping across the ground, early April Old Trafford looked about as uninviting as it comes for a young leg spinner hoping to re-establish his credentials. But if his experience over the winter is anything to go by, you suspect he would have been raring at the opportunity to pull on the whites and tweak a few in glacial Manchester conditions.
Picked as a reserve for the test tours of Sri Lanka and India, as well as the T20I series against Virat Kohli’s men, Parkinson was then called up to the main squad for the tour-ending ODI series against India. This didn’t bring a change in fortune for the Lancashire leggie as England opted for the tried and tested “spin twins” of Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid in all three matches. Parkinson’s only appearance of the winter was in Team Root v Team Buttler, an intra-squad friendly at the start of the Sri Lanka tour. In an England team environment keen to manage the pressures on mental health in bubble life, Parkinson was one of the few all-format squad members to remain on tour throughout the winter.
Back now in the chilly climes of county cricket in April, Parkinson has tried to take the positives from what must have been a frustrating winter, “I’d like to think I improved as a cricketer over the winter and spending three months in the England squad is obviously amazing, as is being surrounded by the likes of Joe Root and Ben Stokes,” said Parkinson.
Already established as number three in the limited overs pecking order – behind the “spin twins” – it is Test match consideration that Parkinson has the opportunity to push for this summer. Jack Leach, one of the few England players to emerge from the India tour in credit, is indisputably England’s number one Test spinner for the foreseeable future. However, with Dom Bess’ confidence deserting him and Moeen Ali’s Test career having stalled since 2019, Parkinson could be well placed to stake a claim as England’s second spinner.
His first class numbers are good. 77 wickets at an average of 24 and, perhaps surprisingly for a young wrist spinner, an economy rate under three runs per over. As a bowler who gives the ball plenty of flight, albeit at a slower pace than most spinners, and looks for prodigious turn, Parkinson can’t be expected to provide such control against international batsmen. However, in Jack Leach, England have, perhaps for the first time since the retirement of Graeme Swann, a spinner capable of performing a containing role. His ability to restrict batsmen to three runs per over or less in the first innings gives England the luxury of considering Parkinson, and giving him the license to toss the ball up above the eyeline and extract copious turn.
With three Tests in Pakistan next year, a Leach/Parkinson combination could be an alluring one for England. Parkinson would certainly benefit from having a reliable performer in the shape of the Somerset finger spinner. Ever since the retirement of Swann, and Monty Panesar’s fall from favour, England’s spin attack has always carried wicket taking threat – both Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid’s strike rates are good – but economy rates of 3.62 and 3.75 mean containment was absent from either end.
If England are to groom Parkinson for future overseas tours, they need to do so smartly. English leg spinners in red ball cricket are rare, and the ability to manage them is even rarer. Twice before – at the end of chastening Ashes tours – England have thrown young leg spinners to the wolves with the series gone and more than half an eye on the plane home.
In Sydney on the 2013/14 tour, England selected Scott Borthwick. The 23-year-old leggie picked up four wickets, but went in excess of 6 rpo as a rampant Australia stormed to a series whitewash. In Sydney again on the 2017/18 tour, England, finding themselves 3-0 down having surrendered the Ashes in Perth, chose to throw in another young leg spinner for the final test, this time in the form of 20-year-old Mason Crane. Crane bowled better than his figures of 1-193 suggest, however he looked powerless in an England team devoid of ideas to prevent three Australian batsmen reaching triple figures in a mammoth score of 649/7. Neither Borthwick nor Crane have added to their solitary Test caps.
England owe it to Matt Parkinson to use him wisely. There’s no room to be carried or hidden in Test cricket, but nor do young spinners have to be thrown in as a last resort when the wheels are off. Parkinson meanwhile is doing his bit. 19 wickets, including a 7fer, at an average of 19 represents an almost unheard of start to a County Championship season for a spinner.
If Parkinson can sustain the form he’s shown at the start of his red ball career, and the England management utilise him sensibly, he could form part of an exciting spin attack that can pose real challenges to subcontinental batting line ups.