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Shane Warne: England should pencil Matt Parkinson in for Brisbane Test

Australian legend praises England legspinner for backing his own skills, and believes he has Test role

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Shane Warne may be preparing for London Spirit's opening match of the Hundred, against Birmingham Phoenix at Edgbaston, but true to reputation, he can't help but cast his gaze to a rather more distant campaign opener - at Brisbane in December, where he believes Matt Parkinson, England's up-and-coming legspinner, could yet play a significant role in the Ashes.
As London Spirit's head coach, Warne will be working closely this month with the last England legspinner to feature on an Ashes tour - Mason Crane, whose solitary Test appearance to date came in Sydney at the end of the 2017-18 tour. However, it is Parkinson who is in pole position for a call-up this winter, after what is already proving to be a breakthrough summer for him.
Having toured Sri Lanka and India without getting a single game across formats last winter, Parkinson admitted last week he had been "gutted" to miss out on selection for the home white-ball series against Sri Lanka, and feared he was destined to be overlooked all season - until a Covid outbreak in England's first-choice squad offered him a late call-up, and a chance to play in five of England's six matches against Pakistan.
He duly made his mark with a string of impressive performances - six wickets across formats, at an economy-rate of less than seven. In the T20I at Headingley, his selection alongside Adil Rashid meant that England fielded a twin-legspin attack for the first time since Eric Hollies' final Test against West Indies in 1950.
However, with the Ashes on the horizon - as well as the five-Test home series against India - Warne believes that Parkinson's displays for Lancashire in the County Championship are the biggest indicator of where his value as an England bowler could lie.
To date this season, Parkinson has claimed 24 wickets at 19.75 in eight first-class outings. However, 19 of those came in his first four matches, when the pitches were conducive to legspin after an unseasonably dry spring, and included one of the moments of the season - a ripping, dipping legbreak to bowl Northamptonshire's Adam Rossington at Old Trafford, a delivery that Warne himself admitted, via Twitter, was worthy of comparison with his own "Ball of the Century" at the same ground in the 1993 Ashes.
"He is pretty exciting, isn't he?" Warne said. "I love watching him. I've been watching him from afar and been very impressed so far. I really like the look of the way he bowls. He is a great addition to white-ball cricket, but also I see him playing a huge part in Test cricket, especially in Australia. I wouldn't be surprised in that first Test match at the Gabba, if he is pencilled into the playing XI."
Though Parkinson has not been considered for the first two Tests of the India tour, at Trent Bridge and Lord's in August, the UK's current heatwave could play to his favour as the summer progresses, as well as the location of the final three Tests - not least the series finale on his home ground at Old Trafford, where the ball was spinning prodigiously during the final T20I of the Pakistan series.
"I think of the Australian conditions, the pace he bowls, the amount of bounce and spin he gets, I think he is perfectly suited to Australian conditions," Warne said. "So I think he has a big role to play and he might even play a Test match through the summer.
"Jack Leach will be the spinner, probably to start with for England, but Matty Parkinson might get a gig at The Oval or Manchester, somewhere like that. I wouldn't be surprised if they have a look at him during the India series thinking about the Ashes down the track."
One criticism of Parkinson in recent times has been the pace of his deliveries - and the bowler himself admitted last week that there had been times on the tour of South Africa last December when his eyes had strayed to the speed gun. But Warne, a bowler who was never afraid to give the ball air en route to his Australian-record tally of 708 Test wickets, applauded Parkinson's determination to keep faith with the methods that have got him this far.
"The good thing is a lot of people would have told him to bowl fast, but he has stuck to being true to himself and what he is good at," Warne said. "It is like anything. If you are doing well, no one will question anything about your pace. If it starts to go wrong, that's when people start to question it, but he has stayed true to himself and that is what I really like. I have been pretty impressed watching him and I am looking forward to seeing his career develop.
"Mate, if I wanted a spinner to bowl fast, they would be called medium-pacers. Spin bowlers are spin bowlers because they spin the ball and he does that. If you can swing, seam or spin the ball, you will be successful, no matter what form. He definitely does that and I think he bowls a beautiful pace.
"Faster doesn't mean dot balls," Warne added. "In this form of the game, some spinners think bowling faster at the stumps is the option, but it is actually easier to hit. A slower, spinning ball wide of off stump is a lot harder to hit, so faster doesn't always mean good. When fast bowlers are under the pump, they bowl slow, don't they?"
For the time being, Warne will be working closely with Parkinson's white-ball England captain, Eoin Morgan, and though their opportunities for close collaboration have so far been limited by international fixtures and Covid isolations, he is confident that they will achieve a meeting of minds in their captain-coach partnership at London Spirit.
"He is such an impressive guy, Morgs," Warne said. "He has a bit of a gambler's mentality, a bit of the poker 'I am all in' with certain things. He has the ability to get the best out of his players and the ability to inspire people too, so there is a lot to like about Morgs and the way he does things. He is a little bit old school which I like."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket