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Matt Parkinson: 'I don't just want to be in England squads on potential'

Legspinner starts season in fine form to raise hopes of making the Test grade

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Matt Parkinson has been in excellent early-season form, LV= Insurance County Championship, Sussex vs Lancashire, Hove, April 29, 2021

Parkinson has been in excellent early-season form after carrying drinks all winter  •  Getty Images

In the HBO drama, Succession, the hapless Cousin Greg is warned when bragging about his inheritance that it will make him "the poorest rich person in America - the world's tallest dwarf". In cricketing terms, 'England's best red-ball legspinner' is a similarly couched epithet - the context offers no guarantee of success or fulfilment.
But it is better to have the label than not, and given Adil Rashid has not played a first-class match since January 2019 while continuing to manage his shoulder injury, Matt Parkinson's early-season form confirms he is the incumbent. After wearing hi-vis and carrying drinks throughout England's three-month subcontinent tour, Parkinson has taken 19 wickets in his first four County Championship games of the season - only eight bowlers, seven of them seamers, have managed more.
The opportunity to bowl has been key, both as a containing bowler and an attack one. Parkinson's four previous first-class seasons (he missed last year's Bob Willis Trophy through injury) have followed a similar pattern: running drinks in April and May as Lancashire play it safe, before getting a brief chance at the end of the summer. Two wickets against Northamptonshire next week would make this the most prolific season of his career to date, even with up to eight fixtures left to play.
It already feels like a long time since he was left out of the side for Lancashire's first game of the season, with Tom Hartley, the young left-arm spinner, preferred. "You do get little doubts when you don't play the first one," Parkinson admits as the rain comes down on the washed-out third day of their draw with Glamorgan. "It was probably a bit tight [after getting back from India] but I was gutted not to play. You start thinking, 'oh no'.
"I thought it could be like a normal season for a legspinner - the sort I've had before - where you don't play until June or July. I've made the point that I want to play a large part in red-ball cricket and I see that as my only way of getting a justified call-up for further honours. I don't want to be in England squads off the back of potential. I want to do what Leachy [Jack Leach] does: play 14 games, and take loads of wickets."
Two wickets in particular have stood out. The first was a near-replica of Shane Warne's ball to Mike Gatting in 1993 - pitching some way outside leg, and hitting the top of Adam Rossington's off stump; the second was a similar ball but to the left-handed Delray Rawlins, who offered no shot and was cleaned up by a sharply-spun legbreak. However, with English cricket taking part in a social media boycott in solidarity against online abuse, the Rawlins wicket gained significantly less traction than Rossington's.
"Doing what I do, it does normally get a bit of hype on Twitter because of the love for legspin," Parkinson says. "When I bowled the Delray one the other day at Sussex, we were taking part in the blackout and it was actually quite nice not to have [my phone] blowing up when we came off."
Parkinson's analysis of his ball to Rossington at the time - "sack it, I'm going to try and rip it" - fuelled the hype on social media. "I'll be a bit more articulate now than I was at the time," he laughs. "The pitch was quite dry, and there was a little bit of rough - we do get rough at Old Trafford. Rossington is a lovely player and he'd been playing pretty well, sweeping me very well, so I bowled it a bit quicker. It clipped the rough, and the rest is history."
Even Shane Warne weighed in: "Wow! Was that his first ball of the summer too? Hahahaha. Love it, congrats mate and well bowled. Spin to win." Parkinson smiles wryly. "I thought it was nice of him, even if it obviously wasn't my first of the summer. People have tagged him in stuff but it was the first time he'd ever interacted with me. That was pretty cool."
Inclusion in next week's Test squad to play New Zealand is an outside bet, given Leach's success over the winter, and performing regularly for Lancashire is Parkinson's more immediate aim. "I didn't want to get a reputation of being a white-ball cricketer who managed to go on a few Test tours and carry drinks. I want to prove that I can actually play and perform, and that I'm not just this - I'd like to say - decent lad who is good on tour. I want to be someone who is really respected for what I can do.
"This format this year has enabled spinners to play a bit more - teams are producing better pitches and I think that will help me. I've made it clear that I enjoyed the winter and I wanted to use it as a time to improve. Obviously it would have been nice to have played at the back end, but starting the season like this almost justifies the winter that I've spent and the hours that I've put in."
Parkinson's success has helped Lancashire consolidate top spot in Group Three of the Championship, and only Gloucestershire have accumulated more points in the first five rounds of the season. "We're in a fantastic place," he says. "I've noticed a massive shift in our desire to win and our attitude in certain situations where we wouldn't have rolled over, but we'd have been more negative. There are some fantastic cricketers who aren't in the first team at the minute - that's what the best teams have, and what teams that win titles have. I think we're massively in contention."
This week, Parkinson is due to work with Richard Dawson, the ECB's new performance pathway coach, after spending much of the winter under Jeetan Patel's tutelage. "They're not stretched as thin as Peter Such [Patel's predecessor] was," he says. "He had a real tough gig trying to get round all 18 counties." He also cites Carl Crowe, who Lancashire use as a consultant spin coach during the T20 Blast, as a positive influence.
Parkinson's pace - or lack thereof - may well remain an unavoidable talking point throughout his career. During England's ODI series in India in March, it was regularly mentioned on Sky Sports' broadcast despite the fact he was running the drinks, but he insists that it has not been at the forefront of his mind in training of late.
"I'd like to think that the work I've put in over the winter has enabled me to bowl a little bit quicker but it's more of a results-based thing for me," he says. "I don't think I could have held for 52 overs in the second innings against Kent on a flat pitch two years ago - for me, that is a massive improvement, and all the signs I need that my game is going in the right direction.
"Obviously there will always be work-ons, and I have loads of them at the minute - strengthening my action, variations, longevity, tactics - but speed isn't something coming into my mind. The more I play, the more I'm going to work these things out. I don't want to veer from what I do, because that's what makes me niche.
"If I do play Test cricket, I might have to go to the top end of the speed I can bowl to be successful, but I'd also like to be the only spinner that bowls at the pace I do who has done well - then I'd be breaking the mould. I'd love to say I've got some zooter or zinger that's going to come out in the Blast but I'm just focusing on being a traditional legspinner and being the best Matt Parkinson I can be. I don't want to look to be anyone else."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98