Look up Cecil ‘Ciss’ Parkin on YouTube and you will find Pathé newsreel of this most mercurial of spin bowlers – a pleasant surprise given that his First-Class career ended in 1926. Unfortunately, the short video is not of his off-breaks, leg-breaks, slower balls or yorkers but rather of his tricksy fielding technique. We see – in slow motion – the ball rolled towards him. Ciss flicks it up from the out-step of his boot, briefly juggles the ball with the back of his hand before catching it and returning it to his unseen accomplice. The trick is repeated twice, the second time more effortlessly than the first, but both times ending with a broad grin on his face. The title of the clip is Cecil Parkin – The Unorthodox.
Ciss would have no doubt been delighted to have shown off his tricks in this way. He wanted cricket to be fun and clearly revelled in being centre stage. In many ways, though, it is a shame that when Parkin is remembered it is for two things – his showmanship and his habit of running foul of the cricketing authorities – rather than his abundant talent as a wicket-taker; difficult to read at the best of time and as unplayable as Underwood on a sticky wicket.
As a bowler he possessed a box of tricks. Commonly listed as an off-break bowler, it was a label that hid more than it revealed, especially in the earlier part of his career. Measuring over six feet, Parkin would stand tall at the top of his run before beginning a curved path to the wicket. Bowling at a good fast-medium it could seem as though Parkin was on a mission to bowl six different types of ball an over; a trait that led Plum Warner to complain that it was often impossible for a captain to set a field to him.
Playing once for Yorkshire in 1906, before being dismissed due to his birthplace lying twenty-yards the wrong side of the county border, Ciss made his name with Church Cricket Club in the Lancashire Leagues. It wasn’t until 1914 that he got to make his second First-Class appearance, this time with Lancashire, marking his debut with seven wickets in each innings. War interrupted this return but when County Cricket resumed, so did Parkin. Now aged 33 he began the new season with match figures of 7 for 86 against Derbyshire and a handsome return of 14 for 123 against his old county Yorkshire in the next. A call up to represent the Players against the Gentlemen soon came and in 1920 he made his England debut in the Ashes Test at the SCG.
Yet by 1924 his England career finished in a spectacular outburst and Ciss was released by Lancashire two years later. Age – he was 40 by then – meant that his days would have been numbered anyway but, ultimately, it was the constant fog of controversy that followed him around which proved too much for the cricketing authorities.
One could never accuse Cecil Parkin of being an establishment man. From the start his showmanship – especially from a professional – rankled many. The Times described him as a “buffoon” good for those who “persist in regarding a cricket match as a jollification”. His local Manchester Guardian complained of the effect Parkin’s larking had on his batting performance, asking why he did not “put away his motley for a while and get to a studious cultivation of his unmistakeable talent for making at least a score of runs an innings?” The Observer followed in a similar vein, arguing that Parkin could be good for fifteen or twenty runs if would just “regard the wicket as a wicket rather than a music hall stage”.
More damaging, however, were his run-ins with some of cricket’s most influential figures; particularly, with Yorkshire CCC’s President Lord Hawke. Hawke has already been aggrieved in 1919 when Parkin had been selected for the Players yet declined to make himself freely available for Lancashire due to his league commitments (a situation which, according to MCC guidelines, should have made him ineligible for any ‘representative’ sides).
That might have been the extent to the controversy were it not for the fact that Ciss had a newspaper column in the Weekly Dispatch and was not reluctant to use it to voice forthright opinions. On his return from England’s 1921/2 tour of Australia, Parkin let readers know his dim view of some of the decisions of his captain JWHT Douglas. He got away with that. The next outburst would end his England career.
The first Test of the 1924 series against South Africa at Edgbaston was a one sided affair. Hobbs and Sutcliffe batted together for the first time, helping England to a healthy 428 before England captain Arthur Gilligan and debutant Maurice Tate knocked over the visitors for 30. The South Africans fared much better second time around (though still going down to an innings defeat) and batted for over 140 overs for 390 runs. Parkin, however, would bowl only sixteen of those overs; brought on early by Gilligan he looked a shadow of his normal self and the captain, deciding that Ciss was a bowler for sticky-wickets alone, left him unused after a couple of early spells. Left to graze in the field for most of the second and all of the last day of the match Parkin –one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year – was not amused.
In his newspaper column he let rip: “I can say that I never felt so humiliated in the whole course of my cricket career….Mr Gilligan bowled himself, he used Tate; he called up Frank Woolley; he went on again himself; he called back Tate; he asked Roy Kilner to bowl. And all the time I was standing there wondering how I had ever managed to get to the top of the English bowling averages this season…. I can take the rough with the smooth with anybody, but I am not going to stand being treated as I was on Tuesday. I feel that I should not be fair to myself if I accepted an invitation to play in any further Test match. Not that I expect to receive one.”
And that was the end of his international career. (Parkin later claimed that the words were those of a ghost-writer, penned without his knowledge; which, if true would have been an astonishing thing for a journalist to do without consulting the player). It was not, however, the end to controversy.
A year later in the Weekly Dispatch, Ciss offered another view on the captaincy of Arthur Gilligan, who was leading the MCC party to Australia. Parkin argued that the Captain’s form should see him dropped from the side. On who should take his place at the helm, Ciss ventured that, if the MCC insisted it must be an amateur, then they should appoint Percy Chapman but that he should lead the side “under the supervision of Hobbs”. The professional Hobbs, said Parkin, was the best captain he had played under. Parkin’s column has faded from minds over the years but the reaction of Lord Hawke has not and it is for this that he stands proud in our Hall of Fame.
Hawke was furious. “Here is a professional criticising an amateur all this distance away” thundered the Chairman at Yorkshire’s annual meeting, “if he had been a Yorkshire professional…I do not think that Parkin would ever step on another Yorkshire cricket field”, adding as a final shot, “pray God no professional will ever captain England”. These last words would come to follow him around and add further life to the debate that would eventually see professionals allowed to do just that.
As for Parkin, he soon made up with Gilligan, who magnanimously insisted Ciss remained a friend and even contributed the Forward to Parkin’s 1936 memoir Cricket Triumphs and Troubles. For all his talent and achievements, one cannot help but regret the time he was denied at the highest level – first through the unbending county qualification rules, then because of the years lost to war and finally as a result of his habit of upsetting those at the top of the cricket tree. Still, 197 First-Class appearances brought 1048 wickets at an average of 17.58, with 93 five-wicket hauls and ten in match 27 times. And that, we hope, is what we can also remember Ciss Parkin for.