By Sam Dalling
“I’ve probably still got a long way to go. I don’t want to be just a luxury when the pitches are dry and they think ‘we can afford to have him at 10 or 11’.”
Not necessarily words you’d expect from a man on the cusp of a Test debut next month.
Particularly when the star in question is Lancashire’s Matt Parkinson, who in the past year has been selected as Manchester Originals’ ‘local hero’ and earned full international honours in both white ball formats.
However, when it comes to leg-spinners, the road to success is long and winding.
Leggies have always been considered something of a luxury item – in other walks of life that denotes extravagance. Something to be desired. A cut above the rest.
But as a sportsman, that tag the brings a different story.
You may be the man with the X-factor, but you’re also expendable – unless you’ve got other strings to your bow.
“Cricket’s a three-discipline game now and every bowler down the bottom has to keep working on batting,” the 23-year-old explained.
“It’s more relevant to county cricket for myself currently – to get into the Lancashire team in April and May when it isn’t spinning on days one, two and three.
“It’s tough but I’m continuously trying to improve them all. It’s about trying to improve other facets of my game and make myself more selectable.
“You look at the best spinners in county cricket – Simon Harmer, Jack Leach, Jeetan Patel – they are selectable in all conditions.
“The challenge is to make myself as indispensable as they are to their teams.
“I don’t want to be an afterthought when we rock up – I want it to be ‘Parkinson has to play’.”
Talking to Parkinson, its immediately clear his feet are firmly planted on the ground. No glimmer of ideas above his station.
But then history is against him and he knows that.
Leggies in this country are swimming against the tide.
Since Robin Hobbs made the last of his seven appearances in 1971, over 6000 Test caps have been handed out.
How many have gone to wrist spinners? 38. Yes, that’s right, 38.
Little wonder Parkinson is trying to emulate a man who’s picked up half of those – Adil Rashid.
“It’s tough being a leg spinner, and that’s why you’ve not seen too many play international cricket.
“It shows how good Adil Rashid is to have played as long and as much as he has.
“You don’t realise how good he is until you see him up close.
“He’s a massive inspiration, particularly as he played when he was quite young and probably didn’t do as well as he’d have liked.
“But he’s gone back and had a fantastic last five years – particularly in the white ball stuff.
“He and Mo have nailed that down and its led to a World Cup win.
“He the benchmark for the rest of us to try and emulate. You’d need three hands to count the number of games they’ve won for England.”
While Rashid – who has become a leading light in England’s ODI side – remains available for Test selection, he won’t be part of the 30-man squad.
However, with Moeen Ali returning to the fray, and Jack Leach, Dom Bess and Amar Virdi all vying for a place, Parkinson will have four other members of the slow bowlers’ union to lean on.
Pressed on whether a friendly rivalry will exist in the camp, the boy from Bolton revealed it’s more of a case of all for one, one for all these days.
“I wouldn’t even call it friendly rivalry anymore to be honest,” he said.
“We’re a dying breed and so are all delighted to see another spinner do well.
“It will be nice to have a group of spinners there to push each other on.
“They are backing young spinners and giving us a chance so it’s up to one of us to stick our hand up.”
“With the spinners I know there’s no real rivalry – it’s about trying to get a game when you do get selected perform and nail down a place.”
Many in the game believe Parkinson can cut the mustard at the top level, but like any youngster he lacks experience.
When the margins are tight, a cool head can make all the difference.
Someone who has been there, done it and bought the t-shirt can get you over the line.
It’s one of sport’s great conundrums; how does a young athlete get to that point without being given the chance to shine, and indeed fail, out in the middle?
The answer; they can’t. It can’t be bought, and the only way to accrue it is by playing.
Parkinson is alive to the fact and believes is one of the biggest stumbling blocks he’s facing.
“That’s the probably the biggest challenge for me,” he admitted.
“I’m not thinking all 14 games but maybe 10 games.
“The most I’ve played is seven so to be able to play the full proper season and see how I go, see how many wickets I take, see how I do in April and go from there.
“I don’t know how I’d go in April because I’ve never done it.”
Parkinson’s 2019 County Championship season illustrates exactly what a mixed bag it can be for a slow bowler.
His Lancashire side swept aside all who came before them, comfortably topping the second tier and remaining unbeaten throughout the campaign.
With the red ball competition front-loaded in the summer – when English conditions notoriously favour seamers – Parkinson had to watch on from the side-lines until round ten.
There were no signs of rustiness though, as he helped himself to a ten-wicket match haul in a thrashing of Sussex when finally given his chance.
However, along came the Blast – a competition in which he excelled – and when First Class cricket returned, he was left out of the team to face Glamorgan at Colwyn Bay.
He was restored for the final three outings but admits his patience was tested at times.
“I took a hands-off approach for a while but it got to a point where I lost my patience,” he said.
“The seamers were blowing teams away and you don’t need a spinner.
“It’s hard when your team are winning in three days to say “pick me, pick me”.
“But it got to June and I hadn’t played so thought about going on loan.
“Luckily I got a game in before the T20s and managed to play the four in the end – it’s not a lot really.
“I even missed one after I got ten in a game – that was very frustrating, even though it was at a club ground.
“It goes back to my point though; Simon and Leachy would all have played there.
“The older you get the more games you play and you contribute in different conditions and you think ‘hang on a minute, I am selectable’.”
Modern cricket is such that there are countless opportunities for players to ply their trade abroad across the globe.
Would he’d consider that as alternative means of self-improvement?
“I’d literally play any tournament I can get in.
“It’s not about the money – I just want to play games of cricket.
“As a young spinner you just want to play as much as you can.
“Sometimes you feel like you go through a season and you don’t play – someone else might have played 40 games of cricket and I’ve played 15.
“I’m very fortunate the age we are playing cricket in that if can get a gig here and there, I can start to play more games and hit that many.”
If Parkinson does get the nod against the West Indies, he will be able to draw on the experience of turning out in England colours over the winter to calm any nerves.
With the last two games of the series set to be hosted at his Lancashire home – the Emirates Old Trafford – current thinking is that he’s most appearing in one of those clashes.
And the man who took a wicket in his first over in international cricket has saluted the senior lads for making the dressing room so welcoming.
“It’s testament to the boys in that environment a lot who make it a very easy place to go into.
“Especially under Morgs (Eoin Morgan) – I came in as part of a newer look squad after they won the World Cup and they made the lads feel welcome.
“The same goes with the red ball stuff with Rooty (Joe Root) as well.
“If you asked any player that’s gone in there I’m sure they’d say the same. The senior boys make its really easy for the young lads to come in.
“That’s beneficial – the likes of Dom Bess and Ollie Pope wouldn’t have performed the performed without the backing of the squad.”