“Are you saying I’m a bowler who bats?” Liam Livingstone responds, smiling at a question about the current role he sees himself playing in this England team. “I am at the moment!”
England want Livingstone to work. A Swiss Army knife of a cricketer, he provides a level of versatility that few others in the world game could dream of. He hits massive sixes, bowls legbreaks and offbreaks, and is excellent in the field. Whatever you need, Livi’s got one of them in the back.
But since the start of the World Cup, the form with the bat has departed entirely, as an average of 11.00 is paired with a bowling average of 35.28. Go back slightly further to include the New Zealand series in September, where he made a fine 95 not out, and the figures are kinder, but still the wrong way round. 26.30 and 31.27.
Nevertheless, in the second ODI against West Indies, he was at his best with the ball. Three wickets, one of which broke a 129-run partnership between Shai Hope and Sherfane Rutherford that threatened to take the match away from England, and a third that clean bowled Hope for 68. Until that point, Hope had scored 177 runs against England this series without cause or concern. Then Livingstone ripped one past bat and pad.
“Yeah I think so,” Livingstone confirmed as to whether it was his best ODI wicket to date. “I was speaking to Daws [Richard Dawson] before, it’s probably the two balls back-to-back, being able to do exactly what I wanted – to execute my plan pretty much perfectly.”
It was with his legbreaks that Livingstone removed Hope, but another string to his bow has been the improvement of his offbreaks that he employs almost exclusively to left-handers. Across his 24 ODIs, he has only taken three wickets with his offies, but his economy of 4.95 (according to ESPNcricinfo’s ball-by-ball data) means he is able to defend as an offbreak bowler and attack as a legspinner.
“I guess the most pleasing thing for me now is I feel like I can bowl in a number of different situations and scenarios, and also be able to impact the game like I have done today,” Livingstone said. “So yeah, I guess the role I played [on Wednesday] was very different to the one I played the other day.
“It’s something I’ve worked really hard on for a number of years. It’s probably not come as naturally to me as what batting has over the last five years. So it’s nice [to have] that when my batting’s not really in the best place at the moment.”
Livingstone debuted for England in T20 cricket in 2017 and was a non-playing member of the Test squad that travelled to New Zealand in 2018. But it is only the last couple of years that he has forced his way into being almost ever-present in both England’s white-ball teams.
His player-of-the-tournament performance in the inaugural edition of the Hundred, combined with a T20I century against Pakistan and that time he hit the ball over the Football Stand at Headingley, has meant the lust for Livingstone remains. But his use as a lower-order belter means that his feel for the blade is diminishing. In 48 innings for England, he has faced more than 40 deliveries just three times.
“If I had the reason I’d have probably changed it by now,” Livingstone reflected on where his difficulties with the bat are coming from. “I keep turning up to training, trying as hard as I can. I guess maybe just try to put a little bit less pressure on myself and go out and enjoy myself like I have done my whole career. It only takes one innings to change it around. I’ve had it before and I’m sure when things do change around, I’ll look back on this time in my career as something that was probably a massive learning curve for me.
“But I still feel like I can affect games of cricket for England and that’s the major bonus for me at the moment. The ball’s coming out of my hand really well and I know for a fact that things are going to change around with the bat.”
In the opening ODI, Livingstone had batted well for 17 before a length delivery from Romario Shepherd kept low and trapped him lbw. He is an almost certain starter for the remaining six white-ball matches of the tour as England search for a combination that allows them to play both himself and Sam Curran as all-rounders. However, despite England’s recent World Cup struggles and his own lack of form with the bat, Livingstone has remained level when it comes to the game.
“Yeah, life goes on, the sun comes up.” Livingstone said of his main learnings from the World Cup campaign. “Cricket’s a sport, we are incredibly privileged to be able to play for our country. But it’s not the be-all and end-all. I was incredibly happy to be able to go home and see my grandad, who’s not in the greatest health at the moment. He’s in the latest stages of his life. So that gives incredible perspective for me.
“There’s more to life than cricket, and cricket while we’re playing and while we’ve got this opportunity to represent our country, it should be enjoyed.”