Paul Edwards profiles Stephen Parry, who has received his first call up to the England Lions squad this week
A couple of summers ago I found myself chatting to some members of Bootle's team during the tea-interval in a Liverpool Competition match. Unsurprisingly, the air was thick with cricket talk, and on this occasion the merits of the league's best young players were being debated.
Eventually, Bootle skipper Ian Cockbain tired of all the equivocation and turned to his slow left-armer Stephen Parry.
"You're better than all those players Paz," said the former Lancashire batsman warmly. "You're a proper cricketer."
I was reminded of Cockbain's comment as I watched Parry establish himself in the Old Trafford side last summer. The tight one-day bowling, the "Youtube catch" off Adam Voges, the Championship debut, all announced the arrival of someone ready to take his place as a county cricketer.
It was no surprise that Parry was chosen as the 2009 Young Player of the Year, nor was it unexpected to find him in quietly confident mood at the start of this season in April. He was no longer a little diffident about his place in the scheme of things at Old Trafford, nor was he self-conscious about the fact that the shirt he was wearing had his name on it. He is clearly ready to seize whatever opportunities arise.
"Last season was massive for me and I'm ready to take on responsibility if it comes my way," he said. "I was good enough to make the step up to first-team cricket last year, but now I've also got the self-belief that I'm good enough and that's made everything simpler."
"It helps a great deal when the coaches put their faith in you and give you great feedback when you fulfil the roles they've given you to play. And it's also nice when experienced cricketers like Glen Chapple appreciate what you can do. It makes you more comfortable in the first-team environment."
But while Parry ended last season basking in the praise of his peers and coaches - Peter Moores hailed him as a young Daniel Vettori - the applause did not breed any trace of complacency.
Instead, the 24-year-old spent his sixth successive winter in Australia working on all three of the game's disciplines and learning the skills of captaincy at the Sale club in Melbourne.
"I'd always wanted to lead a side and I learned a lot about myself last winter," he said. "For example, I was able to see things from a different perspective and I had to cope with getting grumpy when things weren't going my way."
Some devotees of the Liverpool Competition might observe that Parry had plenty of opportunity to observe the joys and occasional woes of leadership when he played under Cockbain at Bootle.
"Yes, but I didn't get as grumpy as Ian!" he protests with a wry acknowledgement of the skipper from whom he learned so much.
Parry also worked very hard on his batting in Australia and he believes he could now perform much more competently if he is promoted to opener, as he was against Durham last August.
"I can confidently say that I'd do a better job," he said. "Again, it helps when the coaches see that you've been working on your batting. Their response has been really positive."
And as for all the attention that comes with being in Lancashire's first team, Parry reckons he is better able to cope with that too.
"I don't get carried away," he said. "I enjoy the moment of course, but then I leave everybody else to make their judgements about me."