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Matt Parkinson must tour Australia this winter

Yas Rana by Yas Rana
@Yas_Wisden 3 minute read

Matt Parkinson was a key figure in Lancashire’s pursuit of the County Championship, taking 36 wickets at 20.55. Yas Rana argues that England must take him on this winter’s Ashes tour.

It’s hard work being a spin bowler in Australia, especially so if you’re a visiting one. The numbers for spinners in Australia over recent years make grim reading for prospective tourists; some of the very best in the business have endured torrid tours. Graeme Swann averaged 52.59 Down Under, Ravichandran Ashwin – despite his excellent series in 2020/21 – averages 42.15, Monty Panesar took 13 wickets at 48.92 there, Yasir Shah’s average in Australia is 89.50 and Moeen Ali’s is over 100.

A handful of spinners have done OK: Ravindra Jadeja has 14 wickets at 21, Rangana Herath 13 wickets at 33, but both have relatively small sample sizes. On the whole, spinners struggle. The last time an English spinner went to Australia, played three or more Tests and averaged less than 35 was Geoff Miller in 1982/83. In 2017/18, Moeen – perhaps impaired by a finger injury – took five wickets at 115 across the five Tests. They need to do something different this time round.

England have a few options. They have fielded three different spinners – Moeen, Jack Leach and Dom Bess – so far this year and have another option in Lancashire leggie Matt Parkinson fresh off the back of the best red-ball summer of his burgeoning career. They also have the option of not fielding a spinner at all, an avenue that they have occasionally pursued in the Chris Silverwood era.

Should Ben Stokes return for the Ashes – something that is by no means guaranteed – the balance that Moeen adds to the side is less important. His three appearances against India offered a reasonably accurate microcosm of Moeen’s current standing as a Test spinner. In and amongst some genuinely brilliant balls, there are too many bad ones. At The Oval, he conceded his runs at more than 4.5 runs an over on the least English and most Australian surface England encountered all summer.

Jack Leach has served England well pretty much every time he’s taken the field for them but you get the sense that the current England management don’t fully back him. Leach, remarkably, still has’t played a home Test since Silverwood’s ascension to the role of head coach two years ago.

In the 2019 Oval Test, Leach took a fourth innings four-for, a haul that included the cheap dismissal of Australia’s in-form No.3 Marnus Labuschagne. Removing Labuschagne and Steve Smith will be one of England’s greatest obstacles to success in Australia, and fielding a left-arm spinner to assist in that pursuit is a method of attack worth considering. Leach, unlike Moeen, is more suited to a holding role if the pitch isn’t offering much – Leach’s Test economy rate is almost identical to Swann’s and considerably better than Moeen’s.

But aside from the impression that Silverwood and co. don’t fully trust him – a sentiment recently expressed by Mark Butcher on the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast – England might want more than a steady finger spinner who generally beats batsmen off the pitch alone rather than through the air. This brings us to Parkinson, a bowler who gets more action on the ball that anyone in the world game and whose 2021 highlights reel rivals most spinners’ end-of-career packages.

Parkinson made his name as a white-ball spinner of promise but his first-class record is exceptional – 98 wickets at 23.51 and in 2021 36 wickets at less than 21 as Lancashire fell agonisingly short of a first County Championship title since 2011.

Given the prodigious turn he is able to extract from even the most docile surface, it is worth, at the very least, to have Parkinson in the squad to give Root the option of having a bowler capable of producing moments of magic when wickets are hard to come by. Fielding Parkinson isn’t the risk it might seem. Over the last decade England have almost exclusively fielded five-man attacks, reducing the need of someone like Leach to perform a holding role. If someone has a tough Test, there are enough bowlers around to provide cover. And anyway, Parkinson isn’t the stereotypical leg-spinner who serves up a half-tracker an over – his economy rate in the 2021 County Championship was just 2.30 runs per over.

England shouldn’t be put off by the recent travails of Yasir Shah in Australia. The Pakistan leggie – who is quick through the air and bowls with a relatively flat trajectory – couldn’t be further away stylistically from Parkinson. As we all know, leg-spinners can thrive in Australia and aside from the obvious, Mitchell Swepson was one of the bowlers of last year’s Sheffield Shield, taking 32 wickets at 23.40.

Parkinson has grabbed the attention of another Australian leg-spinner. “I think Matt Parkinson is very, very good,” said Shane Warne earlier this year. “I really like the look of the way he bowls and he is a great addition to the 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 in the XI. 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.”

If there’s one thing worth listening to Warne on, it’s bowling leg-spin in Australia. Like Leach, you get the impression that the England camp doesn’t fully trust Parkinson. He wasn’t included in any of the squads for the home India series and was recently not even named as one of the reserves for the T20 World Cup. But if there’s one time to take a considered punt on him, it’s for the Ashes.

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