It is June 2012. England need 173, their highest ever successful chase in Twenty20 international cricket, to beat the West Indies. They chase down the target with ease, powered to victory by the belligerence of Alex Hales: he blitzes 99, England’s highest ever individual score in a T20. Still, he cannot get near England’s ODI squad.
A year later, Hales again blazes England to victory, once again falling within a single blow of making England’s maiden T20I hundred. His 94 against Australia is his sixth 50 in 21 T20Is - a remarkable return in a format that is meant to preclude such consistency. It leads to him becoming the number one ranked batsman in T20I cricket: the best in the world in T20 cricket, yet still not good enough for England’s ODI team.
Early in 2014, Hales finally does what he has threatened to, and scores England’s first T20I century: a stunning 116* to lead England from 0-2 to chase down 190 against Sri Lanka, who would go on to win the tournament. England had just been thrashed 4-1 in an ODI series in Australia yet, still, Hales could not get into the ODI team.
After a preposterous run of four hundreds in nine 50-over matches over three weeks, Hales finally gets his chance, three full years after his T20I debut. It is as if he is willed to fail. He makes two 40s, suffers two low scores, is dropped and then left out of the first four games of England’s disastrous World Cup campaign: a perfect distillation of England’s chronic distrust of young talent.
We know what happened next: England’s limited overs has been, thrillingly and intoxicatingly, transformed. After scoring 350 twice in 644 ODIs, England have scored 350 eight times in 39 ODIs since.
The revolution extends well beyond those in the squad. Where Hales had to endure a system that seemed more interested in what he could not do that what he could, today’s young pretenders enter a England set-up that increasingly regards 50-over cricket as an extension of the T20 game. Coaches are interested only in pushing players’ limits, not reining them in.
Perhaps no one embodies this change more than Liam Livingstone. A year ago he had never played a first-class game; now, after a successful winter with the England Lions, Livingstone has a legitimate hope of winning an ODI call-up for the series against Ireland next month, underpinned by Andy Flower’s declaration that he has seen no man hit a cricket ball harder. Like the other leading members of the England Lions’ recent tour to Sri Lanka, Daniel Bell-Drummond and Ben Duckett, Livingstone has been emboldened by the emphatic embrace of batting pyrotechnics under Eoin Morgan.
“I don't think it comes from us young lads, it comes from the way that England have turned around their one-day philosophy,” he says. “It's great for English cricket that the national side are playing that way, and it's great for us positive players coming through. They're the ones who've turned it around and given us the freedom to play a more aggressive brand of cricket which is great.”
While for years England’s most instinctive hitters in county cricket fretted over how to adapt their games to succeed in ODIs - Surrey’s Alastair Brown was infamously branded a “clown” by The Times after making 37 on debut in 1996 - Livingstone is one of the standard-bearers of a new batting generation, liberated be the clear philosophy of England’s limited overs side.
Not for them torturous self-doubt. After a “whirlwind” year, Livingstone has begun his second season playing first-class cricket as Lancashire’s stand-in captain, aged only 23. This product of Barrow excels in blistering hitting, with self-belief to match. “Yeah obviously - it's everyone's dream to play international cricket,” is his robust response to being asked whether he is ready for an ODI debut.
Livingstone’s is an uncomplicated approach. “It's very much an aggressive way of playing cricket. I try and put the bowling side under as much pressure as I can whenever I can and take the positive option in every situation. Sometimes it'll work, sometimes it won't but that's the way I'm going to go about playing my cricket.”
Bell-Drummond, Duckett and Livingstone share much: their uninhibited approaches to the game and breezy spirit, and even a birthday, August 4, 1993, in the case of Bell-Drummond and the Lancastrian. All three also have a determination to succeed in all three formats - “you never want to be branded as just a one-day player,” says Livingstone, the man whose game might seem best-suited to a life gallivanting between different domestic T20 leagues. He proved as much in averaging 50 in the County Championship in 2016, and then scoring twin centuries in a A-team Test match in Sri Lanka - “I wouldn't say it was surprising, that's what you put your hard work in for.” Livingstone embodies England's new bolder approachLivingstone(Getty)
Yet there are also important differences between the trio. Livingstone is the only one of the three who is entirely a product of the state sector (Bell-Drummond won a Millfield scholarship after growing up in inner-city London), and has a self-taught technique to show. With the bat, there are subtle differences between the three too: while Duckett is a 360-degree player, and the hallmark of Bell-Drummond is his timing and placement, Livingstone is defined by his power. One simplistic gauge of their approaches is that, while 5% of Bell-Drummond’s boundaries in 50-over cricket are sixes and 12% of Duckett’s are, a full 32% of Livingston’s boundaries are sixes. It is the currency in which Livingstone deals most naturally, and the currency which is increasingly dominating modern limited overs cricket. The average number of sixes in each ODI has almost doubled, from 4.75 to 8.73, since 2006, and there is no reason to predict this trend halting anytime soon.
If that is indeed the case then it bodes well for England - and especially so for Livingstone, the most belligerent of the new generation. In every World Cup since 1992, England have, like generals fighting the last war, found themselves trying to mimmick the tactics of those successful in the last tournament. Now they have not merely a side at the cutting edge of modern limited overs batting, but a whole raft of players infused with the same daring spirit bubbling beneath the senior team. Eventually, inevitably, England’s current ODI line-up, those first revolutionaries, will be usurped by men even more in keeping with the spirit of the modern age.