Parsons, the new guru of spin, seeks to change the mindset

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The Independent Online

As Monty Panesar was being unveiled as England's latest great spin hope at Lord's on Friday, David Parsons was moving house. It remains to be seen if the Sikh left-arm spinner from Bedfordshire proves to be Panesar the panacea, but the less heralded arrival of the former club off-break bowler from West Brom-wich is of no less significance to the future of English slow bowling.

Panesar has been named as the extra spinner for England's tour of India, joining Ashley Giles, if fit, and Shaun Udal. The selectors had tried to turn the identity of the third man into such a mystery that it would not have been entirely surprising had they plumped for Harry Lime. Parsons, meanwhile, has been made the England and Wales Cricket Board's first spin-bowling coach.

The job description is wide but the unstated objective is undoubtedly to unearth a match-winning international spin bowler (or two, or three) for the 21st century. Considering there were not that many in the 20th, and none at all since Derek Underwood, who played his last Test almost a quarter of a century ago, the measure of the task is clear.

Parsons is the slow-bowling equivalent of Troy Cooley, who was formidable as the ECB's first fast-bowling coach and the search for whose successor is now under way. The first quality that Parsons will bring to his role is unbridled enthusiasm.

He was a profoundly moderate off-break bowler with West Bromwich Dartmouth, for whom he took 98 wickets in seven seasons, the highlight of which was perhaps an appearance in the National Club Championship at Lord's, when he was run out for one batting at No 11 and took 0 for 14 in two overs. All that demonstrates is that you do not need to have been a top- flight practitioner to be an accomplished coach (look at Cooley).

Parsons has spent the past decade learning the coaching trade and is among the few Level Four coaches. His passion is for spinning and he has spent much time at the shoulder of, if not at the feet of, the Australian wrist-spin guru, Terry Jenner, Shane Warne's bowling confidant. But it is not solely wrist-spin, made so desirable by Warne's magnificence, that Parsons will coach.

Last September, every English spin bowler playing for county age-group sides from Under-11, through to Test cricketers, was documented. There were 797 of them in all, 45 per cent of them right-arm off-spinners, 20 per cent left-arm orthodox, 33 per cent wrist-spinners and two per cent chinamen bowlers.

"Our focus has been on the 33 per cent but we ignore the 67 per cent at our peril," Parsons said. "I don't see why we can't be as effective as finger-spin bowlers or as wrist-spinners. There is a place for the finger-spinner who can spin the ball prodigiously. We need to think of ourselves as attacking spin bowlers."

But it is one thing to find the bowlers, it is quite another to find them a place in a team to bowl or the conditions in which they might prosper.

"It's not quite a forgotten craft but it's the area of the game where we have been most reluctant to get involved, in terms of the specialist help the fast bowlers have received," Parsons said. "I have got to convey a basic message about the mindset of a spin bowler, engender an interest in spin bowling and a culture that allows it to flourish. I'm not sure that exists at the moment."

In India, for example, virtually no limited-overs cricket is played at junior level. In England that is all that is available, and Parsons worries that if spinners play they do so only to contain. He recalled his own league days when under the instructions of his captain, the former Zimbabwean captain Dave Houghton, he would bowl straight, to seven-two leg-side fields, and stop scoring. "I can absolutely assure you that it is not my intention to find more of them."

He is wary about the prospect of unearthing the magic spinner everybody craves. In short, it ain't going to happen. But what Parsons will do is put in place structures and support systems which do not leave the development of talent to chance. He is mildly enthus-iastic about the doosra, the finger-spinner's wrong 'un, thinks it can be bowled legally, but is wholly sceptical about teaching spinners to bowl with a degree of straightening in their action, as now permitted under regulation.

Parsons hopes that not too much is expected from Panesar early on, despite his skill. But Panesar has been given a golden oppor-tunity. He seems a well-adjusted, self-aware young man. It is probably safe to assume that he does not have much in common with the last England cricketer to come from Bedfordshire, who drank almost as hard as he hit, Wayne Larkins.

While the spin department is (at last) taken care of, interviews for Cooley's successor will start shortly. It is unlikely to be one of the star names that have been bandied about and will probably be a skilled coach brought up in the ECB's carefully planned system.

This does not seem to include, unfortunately, the highly accomplished Loughborough UCCE coach, Graham Dilley, who appears to be persona non grata with certain influential employees of the ECB. Nor, while former stars were being mentioned, did it go as far as the subcontinent. Aqib Javed, the former Pakistan bowler, for example, has an impressive record, coaching technical skills at all ages. But it may be time for an insider.

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