26th September 2019. A balmy calm envelopes the Fischer County Ground in Leicester as the home county is consigned to the wooden spoon, with opponents Lancashire crowned champions. “Revenge is sweet for Callum Parkinson!” quips a visibly excited Richard Rae on-air for the BBC Radio Leicester.
That was after Callum Parkinson prised out his twin brother Matt, a few months away from his international debut for England, in a similar fashion to how the latter had deceived his brother in the first innings - drawing a front-foot prod for an LBW dismissal.
The esoteric cricketing folklore afforded themselves a laugh but on the field, the truth was far from that. The conclusion drawn from the reluctant trudges off the field and subdued celebrations from the spin twins was that they wanted to forget the dismissals quickly. But it certainly didn't help that the moment was registered in the history books as the first sibling duo to take each other’s wickets in first-class cricket.
“Playing against him isn’t the nicest experience,” admitted Callum Parkinson in an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda. “On the one hand, you’re delighted to have a first-class wicket. But at the same time, you want your brother to do well.”
The twins, born 16 minutes apart, grew up playing together for Lancashire U-17s and Staffordshire. Callum then switched clubs following his brother Matt’s success.
Callum is a left-arm spinner for Leicestershire while Matt is a leg-spinner for Lancashire and England - a rare spin-bowling duo of siblings operating in the County circuit.
Following successful seasons for Lancashire, Matt went on to play two T20Is and as many ODIs against New Zealand and South Africa respectively. In the last few months, he has been one of the few players to be involved in all three formats for England, having been on tours to New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka.
“It was a really nervous experience watching Matt on England debut,” Callum said. “I get nervous watching him whenever he plays. We’ve grown up together and are best mates so we just want the best for each other. Playing against him isn’t the nicest experience, but I’m delighted with how well he’s done.”
While Matt has had an illustrious career so far, Callum has quietly made strides to become Leicestershire’s frontline spinner across all formats after debuting in 2017. His arrival at the Grace Road was a consequence of veteran off-spinner Jigar Naik’s departure from the club.
He produced an impressionable all-round show for Derbyshire on his first-class debut at the Fischer County Ground, where he picked up six wickets and made a handy 48 batting at number eleven.
In his first full season, Callum Parkinson has enjoyed more success in the shortest form of the game, eventually being awarded the club’s T20 player of the year. Since then, he has gone on to play 43 T20s across three Vitality Blast seasons. There he was particularly impressive with his multi-phase bowling flexibility alongside Mohammed Nabi inside and outside of the powerplay.
However, his red-ball tally of only 45 wickets in 21 games is a record that Callum wants to improve on. While it does make for an unattractive viewing, the record is not so much due to the lack of application as much as bowling on unresponsive, easy-paced pitches, the likes of which are found aplenty in Division Two.
As is the sentiment shared by a legion of spin bowlers, not getting sufficient bowling time in the middle significantly hinders their progress. With the County Championship running from April to June and back on in September, majority of the times, the tracks prepared are seamer-friendly, tending to dry out only in the back end of the season in September.
The erratic nature of scheduling and bowling volume is reflected in the amount of first-class fixtures Callum Parkinson has played. In 2017, he played only five games out of 14 but bowled as many as 147.2 overs- 70.4 of which came on his red-ball debut for Leicestershire. Only pacemen Ben Raine, Dieter Klein (nine games) and Australian-import Clint McKay (11 games) bowled more overs than Callum.
The next year saw him play 12 games to help Leicestershire finish sixth - their best finish since 2011 - which included three winless seasons in a span of seven years. The responsibility entrusted on Callum as a frontline spinner in just his second season only belied his age but not his hunger. Bowling over 200 overs, not only did it highlight his mettle but also provided a glimpse of a reliable spinner in the mould of former left-armer Claude Henderson.
Callum Parkinson returned in 2019 to play only four games in the Championship. But that was not to say his bowling wasn't improving. He spent the six weeks of his off-season in Mumbai alongside Derbyshire leg-spinner Matt Critchley - a tour that didn't quite go to plan.
“The trip to India was really tough to be honest. I was quite sick and dislocated my thumb, but I did enjoy the time I got out and managed to practice,” he reflects. “It was fascinating to see the culture out there and the country’s love for cricket. It was refreshing if not very intense. I learned a lot from various coaches and enjoyed bowling on the pitches that offered more assistance.”
The tour was important in the sense that the County circuit doesn't see a lot of specialist spin-bowling coaches working full-time with young spinners. But on either side of that tour, Callum is one of the fortunate ones to have had access to coaches in the capacity of consultants, including T20 specialist Carl Crowe, who helped Sunil Narine rework his action after being banned.
“I have been lucky enough to work with a lot of coaches during my time at Leicester,” said the 23-year-old spinner from Bolton. “I started off with Carl Crowe and Graeme Welch, and more recently Matt Mason and Jigar Naik.”
“Jigar is my go-to now. I love how recently he’s played professional cricket and how he’s been through the same trials and tribulations that I have and will go through. I also lean a lot on my brother, he’s seen me since I first started bowling spin and knows me inside out.”
Callum Parkinson talks about his learning curve
As recently as last winter in December, Callum Parkinson spent time playing for the Northern Districts Cricket Club in Adelaide where he bunked with Leicestershire teammate and former captain Mark Cosgrove.
If the tour to India was about enhancing his knowledge about the craft, the time spent down under was more about applying those learnings in addition to fine-tuning his biomechanics.
“The winter was a real learning curve for me,” Callum Parkinson said. “I was lucky to bowl a lot of overs for Northern Districts and felt I grew up a lot over there. I really enjoyed playing under Mark Cosgrove again as I did in 2017. My main takeaways were all technical stuff really, mainly alignment work and head position stuff which hashave helped me since I’ve been back.”
With sufficient game-time on equally placid pitches, if not more, Callum hit the ground running while joining the club’s pre-season tour back in England, only for the COVID-19 pandemic to scupper his plans.
However, despite Leicester being put into a local lockdown, Leicestershire’s players and coaches have returned from their furlough to resume training on July 1st with an eye on August 1st pencilled in for the resumption of the stalled season. While the fixtures are yet to be finalised, the counties have agreed to play red-ball and white-ball cricket this season, albeit with reduced fixtures.
The stage one training involves players training in one-hour slots on a one-to-one basis with a designated coach.
“It’s great to be back in training, if not slightly weird,” assessed Callum Parkinson. “The one-to-one sessions with Tom Smith, our bowling coach, have been productive and my fingers feel good. I’ve managed to keep bowling through the lockdown, which has been pleasing and has meant I’m not too rusty.”
“I spent the lockdown at my house in Bolton. It was strange as I very rarely spend more than a couple of weeks there throughout the year. So to spend three months was nice and allowed me to do some jobs I haven’t done. I kept fit by running a lot, and I was lucky to get my hands on a few weights to keep me ticking over,” he further added.
With the season involving a majority of games in August and September, usually the backend of a full season, the pitches will be slow from the outset, which could mean a more central role for spinners.
The revised scheduling could mean a switch from four-day cricket to T20 cricket in no time, but perhaps it could particularly help Callum who has a very clear approach to the different formats. In T20s, he maintains a strict stump-to-stump line with subtle variations in pace, while in red-ball cricket, he imparts more revolutions on the ball and bowls a more probing line around the off-stump.
“White ball has been where I’ve had a lot of success, mainly T20s,” said Callum. “I think the biggest thing is having core skills and belief that can be translated into all three formats. I try to have a good understanding of my pace and try to focus more on the seam position in red ball. I’m not looking to spin it hugely in T20s. It’s more about holding the length you want to bowl in all formats, really.”
Leicestershire can believe in a revival of their fortunes with the turn of a new season and decade while Callum Parkinson can expect to be in the thick of things right from the outset. Either way, his steely resolve is non-negotiable at any stage.