@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read
With England on the ropes against India at The Oval, thoughts naturally turn to the fifth Test, where, one way or another, the series will be on the line.
Their line-up has been increasingly unsettled this summer, with six of the side picked for the fourth Test not having played in the first. While, generally, that’s not an advisable state of affairs, there’s one more change England should give significant thought to: handing Lancashire leggie Matt Parkinson a Test debut at Old Trafford, his home ground. Here’s why:
England need a point of difference bowler
From being well ahead in the game on first innings, England saw their advantage slowly whittled away by India before being set a big target in the fourth innings. While they largely stuck at their task well, there were times when they looked short of answers, with four similar right-arm seamers all posing the same type of questions of India. In some of the best batting conditions of the series, Rohit Sharma and co. were able to find the right answers easily enough. It emphasised how, on all but the greenest of pitches, England need a bowler who offers something else, who Root can throw the ball to and say, buy me a wicket. Parkinson, a leggie, fits the bill perfectly.
Moeen Ali isn’t a must-pick anymore
With Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes absent, and Sam Curran’s form with the bat tailing off, picking Moeen from the second Test onwards made sense. England needed an experienced all-rounder to balance the XI, and he was the best available. However, Woakes’ return complicates matters, with his first-innings half-century at The Oval suggesting he’s perfectly capable of moving up to No.7, and Ollie Robinson a perfectly capable No.8. Moeen has produced a lacklustre display with the ball, leaking more than four and a half an over, with England shown why picking your best spinner is preferable.
The conditions should be perfect for him
There has been much lamentation over the lack of a proper summer in England this year, with grey skies and damp days the norm. But next week is set to provide some solace, with highs of 27 degrees predicted from Monday onwards. That could bake an Old Trafford pitch Parkinson knows well, and there are few better places to bowl spin in the country. If ever it’s going to turn, it’s there.
Chris Silverwood doesn’t want Ashes debuts
Parkinson’s Ashes case is even stronger than his in England, with touring finger-spinners almost uniformly struggling on flat pitches down under, and wrist-spinners faring better in comparison. Shane Warne has already said Parkinson should be inked in for the first Test at the Gabba, and whatever you might think of Warne’s other opinions, on this matter he’s worth listening to. Strangely, that means Parkinson must play in the fifth Test here too. England head coach Chris Silverwood has made clear his intention to have no Test debutants in the Ashes this winter, and to give everyone in with a shout a go before then. There’s only one more game to give Parkinson a go in before then.
He’s really, really good
Beyond everything else is the sneaking suspicion that Matt Parkinson might just be the best red-ball spinner in England. He averages less than 24, with an economy of 2.80 showing he’s comfortable holding up an end, unlike some leggies. He can bowl magic balls to break the game open in an instant, and he can bowl all day and build pressure in a hard-fought fourth innings. That he bowls it slower than anyone else is held against him, but that he spins it more than anyone isn’t brought up as often. He’s an outlier, and England will never know how good he could be until they give him a go. Now is the time.