Ten days after T20 Finals Day, when most county cricketers had their feet up at home, Matt Parkinson and Saqib Mahmood rolled up to Lancashire’s indoor school. With England’s white-ball tour to South Africa imminent, both bowlers wanted to ensure that they were match-ready if selected.
But two weeks later, the bad news came: neither had made the cut. Mahmood had little chance to dwell on it, flying to Pakistan for the PSL playoffs a few days later, but for Parkinson it has been a different story.
He had hoped that he might have attracted some interest from Big Bash teams, not least with an influx of young Englishmen involved this season since the increase in the number of overseas players per team from two to three, but it has not been forthcoming. Instead, after moving out of his flat this summer, he has been stuck in the UK’s latest lockdown at his new house, doing DIY and trying not to spend too much time dwelling on a frustrating few months.
“I was gutted not to be selected,” Parkinson says. “It was an odd summer, really. I didn’t really know where I stood [with England] when I came back to play for Lancashire. I think if you spoke to a lot of the young lads on the fringes, [they’d say] it was quite a tough summer to see where you fitted in, just due to the lack of cricket we played.”
After champing at the bit throughout lockdown, desperate to get back on the field, Parkinson’s summer started in frustrating fashion. He was part of the 30-man training squad before the Test series against West Indies, and then shifted to the 24-man group called up ahead of the ODI series against Ireland, but hurt his ankle when tripping over a boundary rope in fielding practice the day before the first intra-squad warm-up game.
“When you get a taste for international cricket it does show you things in your game that you need to tweak but I’m not going to change the whole package just to play for England – I have to stay true to what I do”
Matt Parkinson isn’t planning a complete overhaul in his game
“To be fit in the whole of lockdown and then get so close to the season… it was stinking timing,” he says. “I think I played 11 T20 games. I started a bit slowly but I thought I might have pushed my case in them with a decent finish and I was hoping I could sneak on as back-up spinner to Rash [Adil Rashid] but obviously it wasn’t to be.
“It was Ed Smith who rang me. He didn’t really give too much feedback but he would have been making the same phone call to 10 or 15 lads. Obviously the squad that they’ve taken is fantastic and is a very tough one to break into, so all I can do is keep working. There are areas that I know I need to work on, and those are the things he stressed.”
Perhaps the blow was softened by the fact that England did not take a third frontline spinner to South Africa. After making his T20I and ODI debuts last winter, Parkinson still seems to be the obvious replacement if Rashid were to go down injured on the eve of the T20 World Cup.
But he doesn’t see it that way. “You can’t get into the mindset that you are the back-up; that’s when you get a bit comfy,” he says. Instead, he mentions Danny Briggs, who has just flown to Australia for his first BBL season at the Adelaide Strikers, and Mason Crane, who was part of a small group training at Loughborough last week, as possible rivals, with the injured Liam Dawson another strong candidate.
The main question surrounding Parkinson has always been his pace – or more accurately, his lack of pace – and whether it should be considered a strength or a weakness. Operating at around 47mph/75kph, he is the slowest bowler in the CricViz database, which dates back to around 2006, and as a result, his standard length is 0.7m fuller than the average legspinner’s in T20 cricket, as he tosses the ball up rather than skidding it off the pitch.
He admits to occasional frustrations when it is scrutinised too much, but has been working with Carl Crowe – the T20 spin coach who has worked closely with Sunil Narine and has been used by Lancashire as a consultant – among others to help make his transition to the next level “as smooth and natural as possible”.
“It’s not something I’m going to force,” he says, “[but] it would be nice to have it in me to push it up to 51, 52mph – not every ball, but when I feel like it’s needed. What I’ve managed to achieve so far has been because of the way I bowl.
“The speed and the skills I’ve got currently are obviously doing well in the Blast. I like to think I’ve got decent control for a legspinner, and I get a little bit of drift and some spin as well. When you get a taste for international cricket it does show you the slight things in your game that you do need to tweak but I’m not going to change the whole package just to play for England – I have to stay true to what I do.”
In the meantime, he has half an eye on England’s postponed Test tour to Sri Lanka at the start of 2021, and is determined not to be pigeon-holed as a white-ball bowler. Before the trip was mothballed due to the pandemic in March, he had started to make a case for selection with five wickets across 24 overs in warm-up games, and with Rashid seemingly out of Test contention, he stands every chance of a call-up.
That said, the only red-ball cricket he has played since then was for Team Buttler in England’s intra-squad game; he would have played one Bob Willis Trophy match for Lancashire, but slipped in the warm-up on the morning of the game.
“It was a bit of a stinking summer on that front,” he laughs. “I think that break from March was a good chance to assess and that’s probably been my main learning. I probably went away from my strengths a bit in the winter, but I came good at the end of the Blast when I relaxed and bowled how I normally do.”