At the end of a 2019 season in which he played four first-class games for Lancashire, you would have got long odds on Matt Parkinson being one of only three players to be named in all six England squads for their winter tours to New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka.*

But Parkinson is in the business of proving people wrong. He has bowled exactly 100 balls in international cricket to date, but has already experienced both fawning praise for his flight and chutzpah, and scathing criticism for his speed through the air and perceived lack of variation.

For all the judgements that have been made, he has done something right to continue to be included. And with England flying to Sri Lanka on Monday ahead of a two-Test series that could provide them with either a significant boost or a real blow to their hopes of reaching the inaugural World Test Championship final, Parkinson may finally get his chance to demonstrate the red-ball prowess that he has spent much of his career waiting for.

"[At the] back end of last season I wasn't expecting an England call-up really, especially a red-ball call-up," Parkinson tells ESPNcricinfo before the squad's departure. "I was hoping that I'd get selected in the white-ball [squads] but obviously it hasn't been a massive winter for white-ball really.

"If you'd have asked me on September 20 I'd have said that my ambitions for the winter would have been to play some franchise cricket, I would think. Fingers crossed I've done something that Spoons [Chris Silverwood] and Rooty [Joe Root] like, and Sri Lanka is hopefully a place where if I do get an opportunity, I can take it."

Parkinson's exploits in New Zealand drew quiet praise at the end of last year, with five wickets across his six overs in the series demonstrating his worth as an attacking spinner.

In South Africa, by contrast, he became something of a magnet for criticism: his 20 overs in a three-day warm-up match cost 112 runs, and when Jack Leach went down ill, his late replacement Dom Bess - whom Parkinson has known since they were 10 years old - leapfrogged the legspinner in the queue ahead of the second Test.

He bowled only eight overs in the ODI series that followed, going wicketless, but again became a talking point: before the end of his first over of the trip, commentators wondered aloud whether it was possible to succeed at his pace in international cricket (he typically bowls at around 47mph/75kph, and is the slowest bowler in CricViz's database which dates back to 2005).

Being such an outlier inevitably invites opinions on both sides: when things go well, his lack of pace is an attacking strength; when he struggles, it is seen as a fatal weakness. As far as Parkinson is concerned, it fits into a wider equation of continued improvement.

"[I have] the regular three: googly, slider and leggy, and I'm trying to make all three of them better"
Matt Parkinson

"You say you don't read it, but I think most people do. It probably got me down a little bit, more than I thought it would. But I tried to take it with a pinch of salt, and speaking to people outside of cricket - my girlfriend is a good sounding board - they get more offended than you.

"Obviously there's areas to improve for every cricketer, but I think you're [in the England team] for a reason. Those things that people are picking up on as negatives, I might see as positives.

"The higher level you go, you need to keep on improving, and I might need to bowl quicker, might need to add a few more variations. But the way I bowl has got me there, so I'll trust it. If it doesn't work over a decent period of time, then you can reassess, but being written off after a game is a bit harsh.

"I wouldn't say I'm actively looking to get quicker. I think moving forward it probably is something that I need to look to improve on, but it's not something that I'm going to sacrifice the extra skills in trying to find it. If it comes naturally to me, if I can find a way to do it while keeping the skills that I have currently then brilliant; if I feel that I'm sacrificing any of those skills in an attempt to bowl quicker then I'd probably park it for a bit.

"But I'm only 23 years old, and spinners generally mature a little bit later. We might be having a conversation in four years' time, and people might be saying I'm bowling too quickly, so I'm not too worried at the moment. I'm just going to keep trying to improve - if that improvement is bowling two or three mile per hour quicker then that's great."

And what of his apparent lack of variation, which seemed particularly telling when Adil Rashid returned to the side and attacked with his venomous googly?

"I have bowled a googly in an England shirt, and I bowled one in that one-day game," Parkinson insists. "But again, people just forget to mention that. That's an area to work on, but every ball is: I'm still trying to improve my legspinner, everything. It's not just one area that I'm trying to work on, it's everything, it's my overall bowling.

"[I have] the regular three: googly, slider and leggy, and I'm trying to make all three of them better. Obviously it's a step-up in international cricket: maybe a couple of balls aren't yet international standard, but the more time that I spend around an international environment, those balls are going to get better."

With a bumper white-ball calendar this year, in which Parkinson hopes to use the Blast and the Hundred to pitch for T20 World Cup selection after missing out on an IPL deal, it would be easy to assume that he will prioritise limited-overs cricket, but he insists he wants to play "at least four of the first seven" Championship games, and all of the final seven.

He admits it will be difficult to break into the Lancashire team on early-season pitches, not least given their seam stocks and his lack of prowess with the bat, but he hopes to return from his winter away, in which he has worked closely with spin consultant Jeetan Patel - "he's awesome: there isn't really that spin coach you can go to in county cricket, so it's nice to have someone dedicated to us" - as an improved bowler and demonstrate that he can bowl "on day one through to day four, not just on day four".

And so to Sri Lanka. Parkinson is realistically the third-choice spinner, behind Leach and Bess, and while England picked three on their most recent visit, Root and Joe Denly's part-time offerings may mean that they settle for two specialists this time. But having been "50:50" about his chances of being picked, Parkinson hopes that a strong performance in the warm-up games will catapult him into the side.

"That's what I probably haven't done on these two red-ball trips: bowl really well in the warm-up games. It's similar to the situation at Lancs, in that it's about trying to make myself really hard to leave out."

He is excited to have close friend Keaton Jennings in the squad alongside him for the first time - "our girlfriends are coming out, so we'll do something as a four" - and holds a healthy sense of perspective about the game.

"Obviously you have your tough moments in hotel rooms… but you sometimes get lost in rubbish, really. If you actually realise where you are, what you're doing, who you're playing for, then those moments in hotel rooms become moments that you cherish.

"You don't know how long your England career is going to be. The mindset that I've tried to go with is to try and enjoy it, enjoy every moment of every single tour that I've managed to be selected on. If the performances come then brilliant, but if not then I'd like to think that I've tried my best."

* The other two players named in all six England squads this winter were ... Joe Denly and Sam Curran

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98