Ahead of the first Test of the Pakistan series, Brendon McCullum elaborated on the selection process for Liam Livingstone, which now has him in line to make his debut – as long as his stomach holds together long enough.
“The skipper has done a wonderful job to be able to coerce him [Livingstone] into playing,” said McCullum on Monday. Far from meaning Stokes forced Livingstone to take his cap at gunpoint, coaxing him away from a jet-setting lifestyle of playing exclusively franchise leagues and international white-ball cricket is something probably only the Stokes-McCullum duo would have done in the context of Livingstone’s last few years and a tour to the sub-continent.
England have only ever won two Tests in Pakistan, and they have an appalling recent record away from home in the last few years having gone winless in their last 11 overseas Tests. The prospect of going on a winter tour in Asia, trying to grind out days with the bat and inevitably losing has been a pretty dim prospect for players for quite a while. By bringing Livingstone in from the franchise cold, Stokes has shown he can change that.
He speaks the language of the most exciting cricketers on the planet as the ultimate salesman for the longest format of the game and a captain they want to play under. Rather than harping on about the format’s prestige to Livingstone, one can imagine his pitch was more along the lines of: “let’s go out there and f*** s*** up”.
Selecting him as the second-choice spinner with only two seamers and Stokes was a risk. As the third choice spinner, which it has now been clarified he will be viewed as, is less so. Livingstone has a respectable record as a part-timer for Lancashire. He’s taken 43 wickets at 36.13 (a better average than Joe Root) across 68 innings. England have also made it plain the value they see in him spinning it both ways, adding variety alongside Root and Leach’s different angles.
“He bowls off-spin, leg spin, fields well and smacks the ball out of the park – it’s hard not to get around a player who plays like that,” said McCullum. That blunt but ultimately fair description shows it was the variety factor which saw him just hold the edge of Will Jacks.
“The only real discussion we thought was worth having was whether we go with Jacksy or Livi,” Stokes said. “I think given the place where Livi’s going to play and as that third spinner role, it’s quite nice to have someone who turns it both ways. And quite nice the way he applies himself with the bat – very similar to Jacksy, but having that leg-spin and off-spin possibility with Livi was a big plus for us.”
Batting down at eight there’s les value in being able to churn out a watchful fifty. For McCullum’s England, one that isn’t afraid of losing, scoring runs quickly and making sure that no matter what total their opposition set they will still have time to lose the match is more their modus operandi.
While it’s questionable as to whether England can out-bowl Pakistan in their home conditions, despite the absence of Shaheen Afridi, they’re wagering they can out-bat them. For this task, as a player who epitomises the Bazball flare more than any other, Livingstone’s style has won him a chance to prove he has the substance to back it up.