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Callum Parkinson, the leading English spinner without a Lions gig

Callum Parkinson, The Leading English Spinner Without A Lions Gig
Jo Harman by Jo Harman 5 minute read

A landmark summer wasn’t enough to earn Callum Parkinson a trip to Australia this winter with the Lions, but the Leicestershire spinner is making a name for himself in his own right. He speaks to Jo Harman about trying to shake ‘the brother of’ tag and the bond of the spinners’ union.

Quiz question: how many English spinners have taken 50 Championship wickets in a season over the last 10 years?

The answer, just five. Monty Panesar in 2012, Simon Kerrigan in 2013, Ollie Rayner and Jack Leach in 2016 (with Leach repeating the feat the following year) and, finally, in the summer just gone, Callum Parkinson of Leicestershire: exactly 50 wickets at 29.

If you’re not a Foxes fan, the left-arm spinner’s landmark haul may have slipped under your radar. Perhaps you’ve been distracted by the scene-stealing exploits of his twin brother Matt at Lancashire, who picked up 36 County Championship scalps of his own, including a couple of Warne-esque leg-breaks which left Twitter in a spin.

“In every article I’m ‘the brother of’, which is something I’m trying to shake!” says Callum with a chuckle. “Matt’s done fantastically this season. We’re very close and it’s been amazing to share this journey with him.”

Matt’s omission from this winter’s Ashes squad was one of its major talking points, coming shortly after he was surprisingly overlooked for England’s T20 World Cup squad. Instead he will be back with the Lions, striving to convince the England set-up that he’s ready for the rigours of international cricket.

For Callum, though, there’ll be no winter trip to Australia, his bumper season with the red ball not deemed sufficient for Lions recognition, with Mason Crane the other spinner selected in the 14-strong touring party, supporting Jack Leach and Dom Bess in the senior squad.

“Was he considered? Absolutely,” said Mo Babat, the ECB’s performance director. “We all know that we don’t have the longest list of spinners in domestic cricket in this country, so there probably isn’t anyone who’s playing in a senior first team that isn’t considered pretty closely. Callum will have been scouted, just like the other players in and around that zone, and discussed at length. He missed out simply because it was deemed a couple of other spinners were ahead of him.”

Speaking to Wisden two weeks before the squad was revealed, Parkinson had sensed it wouldn’t be good news.

“Fingers crossed, if the Lions need a left-arm spinner who’s losing his hair, then maybe they can look to Leicester. I’ve got one eye on the Lions squad but, being brutally honest, I think I’ll miss out. I’m hopeful there’ll be some cricket this winter. If not, I’ll just keep plugging away at Leicester.”

Leicestershire supporters might argue, and not unreasonably, that if Parkinson was plying his trade for a higher-profile county, at a Test-match venue, wider recognition would have been more forthcoming. But he isn’t prepared to use that as an excuse.

“It’s talked about in the press how lads at bigger clubs get seen a bit more, but I’ve got every faith that Leicester’s moving in the right direction and I can achieve everything I want in the game here.

“I think I’m improving all the time, especially in red-ball cricket, but it’s just a nod to the lads around the circuit who’ve done it for a bit longer. My brother, Dom Bess, Mason Crane, Amar Virdi… there’s a good group of us out there.”

Parkinson also name-checks Jack Carson of Sussex and Derbyshire’s Matt Critchley as emerging talents and talks of a close bond between the spinners on the county circuit, in particular between himself, his brother, Bess and Crane, who are in regular dialogue about the trials and tribulations of their craft.

“We’ve actually got a group chat, and we’re always trying to encourage each other. If someone has a bad day we might try and pick them up, have a bit of banter. Matt might be 12th man and I’ll give him a bit of stick, send a picture of him in a bib. It’s light-hearted stuff, pumping up each other’s tyres if someone does well. We were all good friends growing up. It’s nice to have that connection. I’m also really good mates with Matt Critchley. It’s nice, a little spinners’ union. You’ve got to look after each other these days.”

After coming through the Lancashire Academy, where he captained an exceptionally talented under-17 side which included Haseeb Hameed, Saqib Mahmood and his brother, the Bolton-born southpaw decided to leave Old Trafford in 2015 after realising first-team opportunities would be scarce, spending a season with Derbyshire before moving to Grace Road.

He quickly cemented his place in Leicestershire’s limited-overs sides but only featured sporadically in the longer format until Colin Ackermann took over the red-ball captaincy ahead of the 2020 season.

“I’ve worked hard with Jigar Naik [Leicestershire’s spin bowling coach], and I also spent a lot of time in lockdown with my brother doing a few drills and stuff. But I think it’s just feeling backed and comfortable at Leicester. The appointment of Colin Ackermann as captain has been a massive change for me in red-ball cricket. He’s got total belief in me and pushes me to bowl a lot more overs than I would have done. That’s been a big factor, just feeling more confident and more settled. Like any young cricketer, if you feel backed and secure of your place in the side, then your results will only get better.”

Ackermann’s absence for the final three Championship matches this summer gave Parkinson added responsibility, with the 24-year-old taking on the captaincy.

“It was a challenge but I really enjoyed it,” he says. “I’ve always really enjoyed that side of the game. I captained quite a few of the lads I’m watching on the TV right now [in the Bob Willis Trophy final] in the Lancashire under-17s. I loved it and I’ve definitely got my eye on it in the future. It suits my personality. I can try to lead from the front and be aggressive in the things I do.”

It’s a role that may in time convince him to stay at the club when counties with deeper pockets come calling. His selection for Northern Superchargers in The Hundred this summer backed up his belief that he can fulfil his ambitions at Grace Road. “If I’m being honest, I did wonder whether it would affect my selection in The Hundred, whether spinners at bigger clubs would have got preference, but it didn’t hold me back. I had the pleasure of being with the Superchargers and seeing how good Adil Rashid is up close.”

He says the experience has whetted his appetite for opportunities further afield and his short-format record (31 wickets from 25 matches over the last two seasons, at an economy a touch over 7) suggests he could be worth a punt for a franchise in the market for a left-arm twirler.

“It’d be nice, chasing the sun a little bit, but they’re very competitive leagues to get into. I do think I’m a fairly decent T20 bowler, I’ve got a decent T20 record, I just know how hard these tournaments are to get into. I loved every minute of The Hundred. The standard was amazing. It was really good for me to open my eyes and see where I need to grow as a cricketer and that I’m not a million miles off.”

If Parkinson’s career follows its current trajectory, he’ll be a good deal closer than that.

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