During the 2017-18 Ashes England’s spinners neither offered control nor took a clump of wickets in a spell.
One of the biggest questions after England were hammered was: who would be England’s frontline spinner come the 2021-22 Ashes?
Fast-forward to May 2021 and it seems that Jack Leach will be England’s frontline spinner when England tour Down Under for the Ashes this summer. But England currently have a crop of spinners who are performing consistently in first-class cricket putting their hands up for English selection.
One of those youngsters is leg spinner Matt Parkinson. Hailing from Bolton, Matt and his twin brother Callum rose through the ranks at Lancashire’s academy – well known for producing James Anderson and Andrew Flintoff. In a youth Test between England and Australia’s under-19s teams in 2015 Parkinson made a name for himself by taking nine wickets in the match (6-130 and 3-92), dismissing future Australian Test cricketers Will Pucovski and Jhye Richardson twice.
The hype that Parkinson gained from his England under-19s days would be replicated soon after in professional cricket. As the then 19-year-old Parkinson made his first-class debut against Warwickshire in 2016 at Old Trafford, he couldn’t have asked for a better debut. Dismissing Jonathan Trott in his second over of first-class cricket, Parkinson would pick six wickets on his first-class debut (5-49 off 23.1 overs and 1-74 off 31 overs).
But the young leg spinner would play only four first-class matches during the 2016 County Championship, taking ten wickets at an average of 36.3, a strike rate of 68.5 and an economy of 3.16.
In the 2016-17 NSW Premier Cricket series Parkinson plied his trade for Gordon under the assistance of Stuart MacGill, picking 21 wickets in 11 games at an average of 37.76 and a strike rate of 68.5. Come the 2017 County Championship, Parkinson took 14 wickets in five matches at an average of 22.0 but went at 4.01 runs per over, thus showing signs of inconsistency and inability to control his lines.
As seasons have passed on in the County Championship, Parkinson has struggled to play more than six or seven games a season, but this is more due to injuries and pitches offering nothing for spinners until halfway through the season rather than a lack of consistency. But he’s starting to battle back. Having been a part of England’s Test squads either in the announced squad or as a net bowler since England’s tour of South Africa in late 2019, Parkinson knows what’s required to get into the English Test XI.
In what’s been a first for the young leg spinner, Parkinson has played all of Lancashire’s 2021 County Championship games so far. The result has been 19 wickets in four matches at an average of 19.21, a strike rate of 45.3 and an economy of 2.54 alongside replicating Shane Warne’s ball of the century.
— LV= Insurance County Championship (@CountyChamp) April 16, 2021
Unlike many modern-day leg spinners who prefer to lure batsmen through different variations and a relatively quick average speed, Parkinson is old school in this manner. He prefers to give the ball a real rip and deceive batsmen with flight and a lack of pace. As he has shown in his short white-ball career for England, Parkinson is not afraid to toss the ball up even after being hit for a few boundaries.
In England’s last two Ashes series on Australian soil they debuted a leg spinner at the SCG – Scott Borthwick in 2014 and Mason Crane in 2018. Neither has managed to make a real impact at the first-class level, with the pair averaging almost 40 with the ball. Compare it to young Parkinson, who has taken 81 first-class wickets in 24 matches, averaging 23.81 with a strike rate of 48.00 and an economy of 2.97. Parkinson is clearly ready for Test cricket, and with England hosting seven home Tests in their summer, he has to be given a chance before the Ashes.
Jack Leach is a good spinner, especially on turning tracks, but he’s not a world-beater who can change the course of a game on flatter surfaces, which is what the English will be encountering Down Under.
In order for England to have a chance of winning the Ashes on Australian soil this upcoming summer, they have to be brave, and that means making some decisions that may be unexpected.
They weren’t brave in India even though Parkinson was perfect for the surfaces there, and Dom Bess’s inconsistency cost England badly. With Parkinson getting a string of games following injuries, now’s the perfect time to blood him before the Ashes.
If Parkinson is England’s frontline spinner for the first Test at the Gabba, Nathan Lyon will have found a worthy opponent who could possibly outbowl him in Australian conditions.