Matt Parkinson has backed the introduction of full-time spin coaches in county cricket to help the development of young English spinners.
Parkinson, the Lancashire legspinner, has a strong working relationship with Stuart MacGill after being mentored by him as part of the ECB's pathways programme three years ago, and worked closely with Jeetan Patel on tour with England this winter. He has learned from Carl Crowe, the specialist T20 spin-bowling coach, who has worked in a consultant role at Lancashire.
He is one of five frontline spinners in England's 30-man training group that will meet at the Ageas Bowl on Tuesday ahead of next month's Test series against West Indies, alongside Moeen Ali, Dom Bess, Jack Leach and Amar Virdi. The spin cadre will work with Richard Dawson, Gloucestershire's head coach, during the series, but the ECB's lead spin-bowling job is currently vacant after Peter Such's departure last year.
And having himself felt the benefits of support from mentors, Parkinson thinks that it would be beneficial for young English spinners to have greater access to specialist coaches from early on in their careers.
"I just look back at when Peter Such was the [ECB's] lead spin coach, and you'd probably see him once every two months. And he was stretched thin as well," Parkinson said. "Personally, I think there's a place for [spin coaches in county cricket].
"We're very lucky at Lancashire. We have Carl Crowe as a spin consultant, so I've had access to him when I come back from tour, and I think that's where county cricket will probably end up going, with more of a consultancy-based [system].
"There aren't enough spinners out there to probably warrant a full-time spin coach. I just know how lucky I've been to have had access to Stuart MacGill, Sushi [Such], Jeetan this winter, whereas other spinners haven't had that."
While a handful of counties have a former spinner on their staff, most are not in specialist spin-bowling roles: Min Patel, for example, is head of talent pathway at Kent, while Dawson combines his work with Gloucestershire's spinners with his duties as head coach. Ian Salisbury was due to become a full-time spin coach at Sussex this season before the pandemic struck.
That has meant spinners are often left to find individual mentors during the off-season, such as MacGill. He has worked closely with several English spinners in recent years: he speaks particularly highly of Matt Critchley, the Derbyshire allrounder, and has also mentored Josh Poysden, Mason Crane and Delray Rawlins. Parkinson, too, remains in regular contact with him, and sent him videos from a training session two weeks ago to ask for feedback on his action.
But the ECB has not sponsored spinners' trips to Australia to work with MacGill for the last two winters, instead leading a training camp to Mumbai for Bess, Crane and Virdi last November, and Parkinson said that young spinners can be left to feel exposed without the right support.
"It does [leave them exposed]," he said. "I think that's why we're all so close as well. It is a lonely art. I was very fortunate to have that winter with Stuart MacGill and to still be in contact with him now is fantastic.
"I think that's what you see with spinners who are 23, 24, 25 now: we're actually starting to play a bit more and we're probably benefitting from the work that you did that Sushi put in [place] for you: to go and net-bowl for six weeks, to go to Australia for four months. Hopefully now the lads who have benefitted from that can start playing regularly."
Parkinson is the only frontline wristspinner in England's enlarged training group, and hopes that his improvements as a red-ball bowler over the winter will give him an opportunity to play against West Indies if they decide to field two spinners. Both venues for the series - Emirates Old Trafford and the Ageas Bowl - typically offer some turn.
Despite a difficult start to the winter with the red ball - he admitted that he "didn't do enough to warrant selection" in New Zealand or South Africa - Parkinson felt as though he had made strides by the time England arrived in Sri Lanka in March, and took four wickets in the first warm-up game to boost his case for Test selection.
"I look back on Sri Lanka and I think I showed some improvements from the winter. To perform as well as I did in the opening ten days in Sri Lanka was pleasing. When it first got cancelled, I was gutted - I could potentially have missed out on maybe playing or being actually close to playing.
"I think the work I did over the winter with Jeetan and being round the England squad had put me in a decent position for that tour. It was nice to be in a bit more of a relaxed position, thinking I had actually done OK here, and if I'm selected I'm ready to go. If not, then there probably wasn't much more I could have done."
Parkinson has only bowled with red balls in training since lockdown, and has enjoyed the opportunity "to get a decent chunk of red-ball" training after spending much of the last three years juggling all three formats. He is more cautious than most spinners about his body, having suffered two stress fractures already in his short career, but said that he has no lingering concerns about coronavirus despite the public health situation.
"When we got the option to opt in or opt out, it was a no-brainer really, for me. Being with the England team is probably one of the safest places you can be, surrounded by the best medical staff there is in a secure complex like the Ageas and Emirates Old Trafford.
"The one thing that I was a bit worried about [was] say games did get played in July or August, that I wouldn't be in a position to be selectable. But training has gone well, and I think that's probably put the small nerves that I had about returning to bed."