In one sense, Liam Livingstone is the quintessential modern cricketer, a player made for the caffeinated wallop of the short-form game. Everything he does at the crease screams aggression. He clears the boundary with ease.
Even his ramp shots carry a latent menace. Andy Flower, the England Lions coach, reckons he hits the ball as hard as any player he has ever seen.
But in another sense, Livingstone is something of a throwback: a middle-order batsman from the unlikely cricketing hot spot of Barrow, not moulded in a gilded public school but hewn from Cumbrian rock. He has done it the hard way: no short cuts, no compromises. “Everything I’ve done has been off my own back,” he says. “I’m not really very coached. I’m quite natural, playing-wise. When it comes to the pressure moments, that helps.”
There are similarities there with Ben Stokes, who hails from the same part of the world and has the same, no-nonsense approach to the game.
Livingstone is two years younger at 23, and it is more likely than not that he will feature for the senior England side in white-ball cricket at some stage this year.
But the recent Lions tour of Sri Lanka demonstrated the strides he has made in the longer format. He scored 320 runs in the two-match “Test” series, seeing off long periods of spin bowling. Last season, he topped Lancashire’s County Championship averages with 815 runs at 50.93. He bowls handy leg-spin, passable off-spin and is a fine slip fielder. Just call him the Barrow Sobers.
It is hard to believe that this time last year, he had still not made his first-class debut for Lancashire. But then, Livingstone has not always been everyone’s cup of tea. “I’ve been told a few times that I would never play first-class cricket,” he says. “Those kind of things only spur me on. I’m pretty fearless. Sometimes I will look silly, and get out playing stupid shots. Other times, you can take games away quickly. That’s the way I play.”
It was a technique honed on the slow, low pitches of Barrow, where you had to develop your own method. “The wicket’s quite tough,” he says. “You learn that it’s not easy to score runs. You have to graft to get decent scores.”
And so Livingstone has always had the capacity to adapt: when he broke both wrists as a teenager and was unable to bowl his usual leg-spin, he tried off-spin instead, to the point where he can now do both.
If Livingstone’s name rings a vague bell, then it may be from a couple of years ago. Playing for his local club side Nantwich, he hit the national headlines by scoring 350 off 138 balls in a 45-over game. “It was a bit weird,” he says. “Turned up to play a cup game on a Sunday, and the next morning I was on BBC News. It was just one of those days. I got dropped three times. The standard wasn’t unbelievable. But I suppose it got my name out there.”
There have been low moments, as well. Two years ago, after a Twenty20 game against Kent, Livingstone was attacked in a bar brawl in Ashford and glassed in the face. “It was pretty traumatic at the time,” he said. “It’s just one of those life moments that you’ve got to learn from. Sometimes you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have a few scars on my face, but luckily it missed my eyes.”
The game has changed. Once upon a time, it was the classical batsmen who were the guardians of the game, able to turn their hands to any format, while the pure hitters were the barbarians at the gates. These days, it is the other way round. While Livingstone is trusted to translate his game to four-day cricket, it is the pretty nurdlers like his Lancashire team-mate Haseeb Hameed who are being pigeon-holed.
“That’s the way modern-day cricket is going,” Livingstone says. “You have to take the positive approach, and people that don’t are being left behind. When you see teams scoring 350, 400 on a regular basis, you can’t say it’s not entertaining.”
And the likelihood is that before long, Livingstone will be entertaining on a far bigger stage.