For cricket fans, there is nothing more fascinating than the idea of being a fly on the wall of the dressing room of a professional team.
What secrets might be uncovered? What minutiae of technique or nugget of mentality might be revealed, the kind that separates the best in the world from the mere mortals?
It turns out, in English cricket at least, eavesdropping on the inner workings of a first-class side might be a rather more mundane experience, with the only lesson to be gleaned whether it’s Diogo Jota or Roberto Firmino who might start for Liverpool on the weekend.
“Fantasy football is a massive talking point in all changing rooms,” Matt Parkinson told the Wisden Cricket Weekly Podcast. “I went down to Loughborough to do some testing and it was probably the main topic of conversation there as well.”
While for most 2020 has been a year to forget, for Parkinson, it’s been quite the opposite. It’s just over 12 months since his England debut came, in a T20I against New Zealand, and he’s since added an ODI cap to the cabinet as well. But arguably his greatest achievement has come not on the pitch, but online.
With just over a fifth of the English Premier League season having passed, the England and Lancashire leggie is bossing the competition’s official fantasy game. His team currently sits just outside the top 10,000 players worldwide in a game played by millions, putting him in the top 0.15%. But like any good manager, Parkinson is quick to eschew the credit.
“To be honest with you, it’s an absolute fluke,” he said. “My team is Bolton Wanderers, so the football that I follow isn’t great. League Two, their season has been an absolute shambles so far, so I’ve tended to pour my heart and soul into this really. To answer the conversation of how I’m doing so well, I’ve just backed the right players I think. I’ve got [Jack] Grealish and [Ollie] Watkins who are obviously doing fantastically well at Villa, and yeah just gone for pairings of midfielders and strikers that I think are gonna score.”
His simple method has caused some frustration among his teammates, who have put in more effort for little reward. “To be honest with you, there’s no secret to it, I am probably one of the least football fans doing fantasy, which makes it even more sweet that I am top of all three leagues that I’m in.
“I’ve just gone for the most basic team, and I’ve had a couple of flukey weeks, but it’s actually a flukey eight weeks now. It’s getting to the point where it can’t be a fluke. I’ve changed my goalie round a couple of times, used my wildcard, but apart from that, there’s no secret. That’s more the frustration of other people that they do do that, researching in The Athletic, and they are big football fans, and I’m currently winning.”
Still, being just outside the top 10,000 in the world is one thing. Beating your club teammates is quite another.
“The one that I’m in with Lancashire has 30 players,” he says. “There’s some big fans in there. Alex Davies is a massive football fan. Saqib Mahmood, big Liverpool fan. I’m very smug that I’m beating our stats guy, because cricket statisticians will be the ones that use those websites to cheat in fantasy football as well so that’s very pleasing, and it’s also very nice to see Liam Livingstone bottom of the 30.”