Liam Livingstone has been making headlines all year, but the latest came without him even lifting his bat. Having been tipped by many to feature in England’s Ashes squad he ended up not only out of that, but absent from the 14-man Lions group that will accompany them to Australia.
Mo Bobat, the ECB’s performance director, said “it felt like there were other players ahead of him”, but others were unconvinced. “Liv a little!” roared Friday’s Sun, the day after the Lions squad was announced; “one-day wonder snubbed,” said the Express; the i described his omission as “genuinely astonishing”. But not everyone was surprised, and it is telling that when asked if he expected to be called up, Livingstone simply laughs.
There is certainly no lack of desire on his part. “I’ve said all along, the biggest goal for any cricketer growing up is to play Test cricket for your country,” he says. “How that happens, I don’t know at the moment. Two or three years ago I thought red-ball cricket was the stronger part of my game, but I’ve spent so much time on white-ball cricket that it’s probably overtaken it now.
“Hopefully, I get a chance to do some red-ball work, play a number of games at Lancs and try and push my way in. If it happens then great; if it doesn’t happen, I’m not going to have too many regrets.
“I want to spend time on my red-ball game, but there’s not 700 days in the year and I play so much white-ball cricket that it’s hard to get the balance right. But I certainly have massive ambitions to play Test cricket and hopefully in years to come I’ll give it a go and try and work my way into that squad.”
Livingstone’s first-class average is a creditable 38.36 – more than Zak Crawley, Haseeb Hameed, Dan Lawrence and Dawid Malan, who are all in the Ashes squad – but in the past two summers he has played nine red-ball innings and none of them were particularly memorable.
But he is speaking from Dubai, where he is part of England’s squad for the T20 World Cup, which starts on Sunday, and his presence there is proof of what he can achieve when completely dedicated.
“This World Cup squad has been a goal for two years,” he says. “Deep down I thought it was going to be really hard because of the talent that we have and the boys that were already ahead of me.
“I just tried to go to every franchise competition I was available to play in and hope I was going to learn and improve my game and get these experiences of playing in big games and hope that was going to stand me in good stead.
“It’s been a long and tough couple of years travelling around, spending a lot of time in bubbles, but there’s reasoning behind it.”
Even reading through Livingstone’s Twenty20 schedule from the past couple of years is exhausting, taking in two trips to the Pakistan Super League, a couple of IPLs, two Big Bash Leagues in Australia, South Africa’s Mzansi Super League and the annual Vitality Blast in England.
“The cool thing about franchise cricket is you learn off different coaches, from different players and you go to different environments,” he says. “Not all of them are really good, not all of them are bad, but it’s definitely a cool way to live life.”
The results have been remarkable. This year he averaged 55.8 in the Vitality Blast and in the inaugural Hundred topped the run-scoring charts, averaged 58, chipped in with some handy wickets – he has an unusual ability to spin the ball both ways – and was named the most valuable player.
He has hit 82 sixes in T20 cricket in 2021, fewer than only New Zealand’s Glenn Phillips, and another 27 in the Hundred. Add a few more in ODIs and that is 678 runs in sixes alone. In the process he heaved his way back into the international reckoning, making his ODI debut in March and returning to the T20 team after a four-year absence in June.
The following month he scored England’s fastest international century, needing 42 balls against Pakistan at Trent Bridge, and by September his place at the World Cup was guaranteed.
Then the run ended and in a manner that does not augur well for England. Last month, he joined Rajasthan Royals for the resumed IPL, like the World Cup relocated from India to the United Arab Emirates because of Covid, and in five innings scored 25, 1, 4, 6 and 6.
“I’ve been batting in different positions, in and out of the team, and it’s all been a bit strange for me,” he says. “But the four or five games I’ve played aren’t going to define me as a player. It’s only a couple of weeks.”
Livingstone is not the only member of England’s squad to have struggled to make an impact in the UAE, though he says “there’s certainly no reason why conditions can’t suit us” and that his time at the IPL will have been beneficial. “You’d much rather have had that experience and have learned from it rather than coming in cold to a World Cup and making mistakes then,” he says.
Nor has his confidence suffered. “Just because I’ve had two or three bad games doesn’t mean the summer I’ve had is going to be forgotten, certainly not by me. You’d be very stupid to lose confidence that quickly.
“One thing I’ve learned in sport is there’s no need to get too high or too low. I wasn’t getting too high in the summer when I was doing really well, because I knew that what’s happened in the last few weeks could be just around the corner.”
Having already been in the UAE before the World Cup, Livingstone will stay there once it concludes to fill a Lions-tour-shaped hole by playing in the Abu Dhabi T10 League before taking his first holiday in three years (in Dubai, obviously) and moving on to a new chapter in his career, one that will at some stage feature Test cricket. What it will not feature, ideally, is more hotel quarantines.
“Hopefully, all this bubble stuff will be done with after the World Cup and the Ashes,” he says, though like several members of the England squad he has developed a particular method of coping with pandemic life.
“If you’d told me I would be playing Call of Duty two years ago I’d have laughed,” he says. “I just couldn’t think of anything worse than being sat in a room playing PlayStation when you’re travelling to all these cool places.
“But when there’s nothing you can do it’s a lifesaver, mentally. You go on to a PlayStation, you put your headset on and you’re having a laugh with mates and all of a sudden three, four, five hours will have passed by. Call of Duty is the thing that’s given us freedom within the bubble. It’s pretty sad that we’ve had to rely on that but it’s certainly helped us.”
Livingstone now has a chance to send his profile into the stratosphere – an experience it would share with many of the balls that have come his way this year. His past four or five games might not have defined him, but the next four or five could.