To borrow a phrase from a vastly more dignified political era Matt Parkinson is a coming man. Where he is going, on the other hand, is anybody’s guess, including his own.
In the short term Parkinson’s diary is settled. Having just returned from the tour of New Zealand, in which he made his T20 international debut, he will very shortly fly out to South Africa as a member of England’s Test party. Ideally, of course, the Lancashire legspinner would then like to be named in the squad for the white-ball games against the Proteas and for the two-Test tour to Sri Lanka.
Thereafter, however, things get more complicated. Fearful he might not be selected in Lancashire’s team for any of the half-dozen County Championship matches they are due to play in April or May, Parkinson has made himself available to interested franchises at next week’s IPL auction. That tournament is due to begin four days before England’s second Test against Sri Lanka and it is reasonable to think the selectors will want as many of those players in contention for next winter’s T20 World Cup squad to take a part in the biggest short-form show on earth.
Parkinson understands all this, of course, but his rationale is rather simpler: he would just like to be playing cricket for someone and he particularly wants to avoid the situation he faced last year when he didn’t play a championship match until July and only played four Division Two games in all.
“I am keen on playing red-ball cricket, but it gets to the point where if you’re not getting picked, it’s easy to get pigeon-holed as a white-ball cricketer, even if you don’t want to be,” he said. “I’m 23 and I’ve still got time on my side, but people are getting pigeon-holed quite early now because there’s so much white-ball cricket out there.”
It is surely unfair to blame the hierarchy at Emirates Old Trafford for the various dilemmas faced by one of England’s most talented young spinners. Picking a leggie who bats at No.11 for matches played on green pitches in April and early May would be a supreme indulgence, especially in a Lancashire team whose pace attack is of Test match quality. ECB officials, on the other hand, might come in for rather more criticism. What remains remarkable is that Parkinson was selected for the South Africa tour on the strength of his 20 first-class wickets. The England selectors clearly know a good thing when they see it, however brief their glimpse might be.
“I wouldn’t say it’s embarrassing to have only played four games and got picked for England but it says a lot, really,” said Parkinson. “There’s a lot of talk about a lack of Test-quality spinners, but if we’re not playing matches, no one’s going to improve. It says a lot that I’ve been picked on the back of 20 first-class games. It shows I’ve done something they like but I’d like to play all 14 [championship] games and get picked off the back of 50 first-class wickets in the season, then there isn’t muttering that he’s only been picked because the cupboard’s bare. I do think something needs to be done.”
Let there be no doubt that Parkinson wants to play Test cricket. He saw how talismanic England cricketers like Ben Stokes prepared for the New Zealand series and he was properly impressed. And he is greatly looking forward to working with Jeetan Patel in South Africa. But as the final stages of last summer’s World Cup were being played he was wondering whether his future lay in 50-over cricket and the various T20 circuses. And young cricketers remember such things.
“If you aren’t picked for the first couple of games, it’s almost like your season is starting again,” he said. “I feel that every summer I’m starting again and having to prove myself in red-ball cricket. When it got to July and I hadn’t played a game, I was worried, but the way it went at the end of the season and my selection for England has moved things back a bit,” he said.
“In twelve months it could be completely different but I am keen on playing red-ball cricket. The back-loading’s good. I’ve played most of my games in the last month of the season. But playing seven games in the first seven weeks of the summer isn’t ideal although if you can bowl spin on a greentop in April, you can perform on a dust-bowl in September.”
Parkinson’s ability to adapt to different conditions ensured he ended the New Zealand leg of England’s winter tour with his reputation bolstered. His four wickets at Napier in the second T20 game was a lovely way to end a year which had been scarred far beyond cricket’s compass by the death of his mother, Maria. That tragedy was mentioned by Nasser Hussain when he presented Parkinson with his first England cap at Nelson.
“The words he said will stay with me for a long time, said Parkinson. “You sometimes forget how lucky you are, being paid to play cricket in New Zealand in November when most lads are in the indoor school or working. You get lost in the here and now. It gets tough at times but something like that definitely gives you perspective.
“I was pleased to make my debut and pleased it went so well. I was nervous and it’s one of those situations when if you get a wicket in your first over, you’re okay then. It was a challenge to bowl on the small grounds in New Zealand but fingers crossed I’ve learned some lessons I can use.
“There are things I’ll try and stick to whether it’s with England or Lancashire. The nerves are still there when you make your England debut but it helped that it was in New Zealand. You weren’t at the SCG or MCG with nearly 100,000 people there. We knew before the series that we were going to get a go, so that helped as well.”
Parkinson must now wait to find out when he will next get a go. His many supporters hope he might get the nod for a Test in South Africa or Sri Lanka. They also hope that the stress freshly placed on five-day cricket by England’s hierarchy might have an impact on the shape of the domestic season. Parkinson, meanwhile, will carry on working very hard in the hope that excellence will receive its proper reward. He knows there is more for him to do.
“Every cricketer has their work-ons and if I could bat like my brother [Callum at Leicestershire], that would be happy days.” he said. “All three facets of my game need to improve for me to be an international cricketer who plays most of the time. I class myself as a luxury. I don’t want to be a luxury. I want to get picked regardless of the surface. Nathan Lyon plays all over the world and he’s a No.11.”