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Matt Parkinson ready to grin and bear April chill in pursuit of a game

Lancashire legspinner eager to play after winter spent netting in England's touring bubble

David Hopps
David Hopps
Matt Parkinson kept his spirits up despite a winter running drinks for England  •  Getty Images

Matt Parkinson kept his spirits up despite a winter running drinks for England  •  Getty Images

When the next history of international cricket is written, it is fair to say that Team Buttler vs Team Root on January 8-9 in Hambantota, won't manage a mention.
But don't knock it. Matt Parkinson's five overs without a wicket in an England practice match, under a broiling Sri Lankan sun, represents his only competitive bowl since October. After that little outing, the only England team he was confident of forcing his way into for the next three months or so was the card school.
After an inactive winter in biosecure bubbles in Sri Lanka and India, he is itching to start the Championship season, his enthusiasm not even tempered by Old Trafford fielding drills in temperatures of 7C and with driving sleet strafing across his Lancashire woolly hat.
A wintry April hardly makes legspin a precious commodity for the start of the Championship season, but more inactivity in the bubble would be tantamount to an act of cruelty and Lancashire's Championship captain, Dane Vilas, has observed Parkinson's spell of netting in warm-weather climates and suggested that it must make him the best prepared county cricketer in the land.
Will he face more weeks of enforced idleness? "If you dwell on it too much it might get you down," Parkinson said. "I don't want to be sat in a bubble for a couple of months and not playing. I'm looking to play in all formats. It would be quite an odd feeling to do that coming off the back of not too much cricket."
Parkinson is not the first cricketer to be surplus to requirements on an England tour, but the mental pressures are much the harder when there is no means of escape, not even the ubiquitous round of golf to alleviate three months of net practice and hotel confinement.
Ashley Giles, the managing director England men's cricket, was keenly aware of the pressures on mental health because of Covid restrictions and multi-format cricketers were given a break during the tour for their own wellbeing.
Parkinson, though, a sort of multi-format non-cricketer, was a rare example of someone who remained throughout - the head coach, Chris Silverwood, being another. Parkinson's general bonhomie, hard work and team ethic led Silverwood to call him "an absolute delight".
Giles emphasised on BBC radio last week that Parkinson was far from forgotten. "It was a great experience for him to be out there bowling day in day out. Being in hotels, being in quarantine, is hard but we keep constant mental health checks on these guys and if at any point we felt that we needed to get him out we certainly would have done. Don't be afraid to get your hand up and we'll get you out."
Parkinson makes light of the challenge he faced. "I just sort of cracked on with it," he said. "The card school kept me going most nights. There was no offer on the table from the Big Bash or the Pakistan Super League so it was either the nets with England or the Lancashire indoor school.
"I was disappointed that I didn't play any games but I like to think that the work I've done will seep into my game and that after bowling to the likes of Joe Root and Ben Stokes in the nets all winter I've got better."
Those net sessions allowed him to reflect - although not too much - upon the debate about his bowling speed. He is one of the slowest spin bowlers around and, although the likes of Rob Key have advised him not to change, others believe his effectiveness at the highest level will be limited as a result.
Prior to the tour had worked with two spin-bowling coaches, Carl Crowe and Richard Dawson, to try to bowl a little quicker without undermining his trajectory. "I've tried not to get too far away from what I do, to stick to the skills that have got me so far," he said. "Maybe we'll see another 3 or 4kph but I won't know until I play a game."
At least he had a close-up view in India of one of the most spin-intense Test series of modern times as R Ashwin and Axar Patel took 59 wickets between them in the four-Test series (of which Patel missed the first Test). But even then, the direct comparison for Parkinson would be to Kuldeep Yadav, as another wrist spinner, and he did not fare as well.
With Eoin Morgan, England's T20 captain, in somewhat experimental mood ahead of the T20 World Cup in India later this year, Parkinson hoped for a game in his strongest format, but even that was denied him. All England's emphasis, when it comes to legspin, rests with Adil Rashid. He likes to think he "remains in the mix", a back-up to Rashid, but as much as he concedes that it would be wonderful for them to play in the same side, he does not really believe it.
It would have been intriguing to see him get a game, especially as the sort of modern journalism that relies upon intense checking of Twitter timelines had revealed that there was a time when the teenaged Parkinson was not exactly enamoured of India's captain, Virat Kohli. Those papers who carried his intemperate comments of youth had to use a lot of asterisks.
If he achieved anything this winter then it was to become a case study in the dangers of social media. He can expect to be on an ECB PowerPoint presentation for years to come.
"I don't do much social media as it happens," he said. "I was just a young cricket fan and got it wrong. It was a good lesson about social media."
How does he think he would have fared if he had come up against Kohli, eager for retribution?
"I think I would have struggled," he grinned.
It takes more than a winter's confinement to knock the spirit out of Matt Parkinson.

David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps