Matt Parkinson- No Pace? Rag it Instead.
It is one of Newton's laws that if you refresh Twitter enough times over a ten minute period you will see a Lancashire fan and or a deluded ex-spinner with 700+ test wickets, call for the inclusion of Matt Parkinson in the England test side. The latter of these two has no leg to stand on and if he saw my juicy full toss off breaks and leg breaks he would probably demand that I be included in the test side at the Gabba. And for the Lancashire fans? Well they’re nonsensical at the best of times but on Parkinson they may have a point. Personally Matt Parkinson has to tour Australia and he almost has to play, not as a frontline spinner but as Englands weapon, the bit of magic in Joe Roots backpocket that he can call upon when the pitch is dead and the ball is doing nothing; god if only he’d had that during the India series…
Beginning with Jack Leach is fairly obvious. To the initiated Jack Leach should be and is widely regarded as Englands front line test spinner and when England are at full strength I would certainly have to agree that Jack Leach is the best spinner available for balancing the side and maximising the ability of those around him. Sadly England do not have a full strength Xi and the Xi they have does not require Jack Leach. At the start of the year England had Jofra Archer, Mark Wood, Olly Stone, Ben Stokes and, to a certain extent, Stuart Broad. All of these bowlers are capable of producing that something from nothing, producing the partnership breaking spells and running through a lineup. We saw Mark Wood do it at Lords vs New Zealand when he ran through the middle, lower, order bowling high pace and prizing wickets on a fairly docile surface. Sadly England no longer have those strike high pace, high aggression bowlers and heading into the Ashes they have a battery of right arm medium fast quicks who hit a good line and length and keep everything neat and tidy, well we saw how that works at the Oval.
For a moment, imagine you add Jack Leach into Englands attack for the fourth test in place of Moeen Ali and then England look far less threatening. There’s no more magic in the attack and batters don’t feel threatened anymore. Whilst Moeen was expensive he still showed with his dismissal of Kohli that he has the ability to produce a ball which not many can play unlike Leach who keeps it tidy and has to wait for his wickets- much like Nathan Lyon, often claiming scalps in overs 15+. This is reflected in his stats: outside of Asia since he debuted Leach averages 37 with a Strike Rate of 76 but he goes at a mere 2.97 runs an over. In effect Leach is very good at allowing others to bowl around him. Sadly that’s what the rest of Englands current attack are good at as well. Leach doesn’t offer a point of difference, therefore when he does play he’s no real threat meaning England are toothless and again when everyone is fit Leach has to play as he allows Root to unleash hell with the rest of the attack. So England need a point of difference, they have no more high pace options who can be trusted, Moeen can’t find his action and at 34 is only going to get worse so who do England turn to? Well that’s where Matt Parkinson steps in.
Hypothetically say Matt Parkinson did play at the Oval then suddenly that attack has a bit of life to it, a bit of pazaz a bit of newfound energy and gusto which it had previously lacked. Anderson, Woakes, Robinson and Overton make up your four workmen like seamers doing the ‘ugly overs’ and smashing a length on a regular basis and then you have one of the most exciting bowlers in the country. Parkinson is a well documented cricketer, he bowls slower than anyone else but he drifts it more and he spins it like no one else ever has. All leg spinners have the ability to produce something out of nothing- in Ben Jones and Nathan Leahmonns “Hitting Against the Spin” they show that a leg break on a good length is the most dangerous ball in test cricket it’s just that everything else isn’t that good. Essentially when it comes to breaking a partnership and producing magic, no one does it like a leggie. Add onto this Parkinsons ability to spin the ball more than anyone else has ever done, the frankly absurd amount of drift he imparts on the ball and the consistency he has developed and suddenly you have a seriously dangerous bowler. A dangerous bowler who England can no longer afford to overlook.
All well and good me saying that England should just pick Parkinson but what is there to prove it? Well for starters he’s already played some international cricket and has been in and around the test squad before so he won’t exactly be a new boy thrown in too early. Secondly he’s in the form of his life with in red ball cricket with 32 wickets at 21 this season whilst only conceding 2.21 runs per over and he strikes every 54 balls. Then there is of course the aforementioned magic. The Dismissall’s of Sanderson and Rawlins where enough for most to say that Parkinson should be in the side on those balls alone and whilst that is somewhat of a stretch, there is some form of vague logic too it. Those balls are rare and not even many leg spinners can deliver them. Flight, turn, bounce and stumps knocked over is a rare commodity in modern test cricket and especially for England but ahead of a winter on flat surfaces England could thoroughly use those deliveries (hopefully to that bloke named Steve).
Naturally , Parkinson does have his flaws but isn’t that the case with every bowler? Every single bowler has their tradeoffs, so whilst Matt Parkinson is slower than anyone else meaning that batters have ideal time to get their setup spot on and therefore he is far more hittable than anyone else, when he gets it right, however, there is very little any batter can do. Imam-ul Haq found this out the hardway when the usually dependable left hander was cleaned up by the Lancashire leggie. Imam got himself into a fine position for the delivery; then the ball hit the surface. The amount of spin was extraordinary and in excess of 10 degrees. Parkinson can produce these deliveries on a semi regular basis and over the course of a few test matches would most likely do the same.
Furthermore the translation of white ball skills into red ball skills is somewhat of a worry but as already stated he has been producing this level of performance in red ball cricket. Combine this with previous international success and the worry of moving formats deteriorates more and more. Then there is his fielding which in of itself is of an incredibly low standard but then again this is England, the worst slip catchers in the world.
So England have essentially four seam bowlers as their spinners (consistency, working over batters and eventually getting wickets whilst going for not many runs) and they need that strike bowler and much like with Graeme Swann this responsibility falls on the spinner. Jack Leach doesn’t possess the natural partnership breaking ability his team require and the lack of movement through air means that he is a worry for the trip down under regardless. England have used and broken all of their high pace options and the next best thing statistically is a leg break bowler and thankfully England have one who is ready to go. Now if England don’t play Parkinson then it won’t be the end of the world but if they do play him I genuinely believe that he will help England win test matches and I genuinely believe that he can be the point of difference that England have been lacking for so long.