“If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”
He had already opted out of the final day’s optional training at the ground before players began reporting symptoms late on Tuesday. “I’ve spent most of the morning on the golf simulator,” he says, like a man who had walked bleary-eyed to and from his local shop to buy a Diet Coke in the midst of a Zombie Apocalypse. “It was quite weird. Everybody was going down one by one. Thankfully I’ve been clear up to now.
“I’ve just been chilling upstairs, had breakfast with Sax (Mark Saxby) who’s just come back from being ill, so I haven’t seen anyone. I don’t know what’s going on. Thankfully it’s way above me (the decision on whether the Test will begin as planned). I’ll stay way out of it. I’ll prepare as if I’m going to make my debut tomorrow and that’s that, if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen but I won’t be wasting any energy thinking about what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
A lot has been made of the decision to hand cap number 708 to a player who last played first-class cricket at the start of September 2021, and has since made his reputation – and money – across the world as a franchise gun-for-hire, whether abroad or at home, notably when he carried the first edition of The Hundred as part of Birmingham Phoenix. That decision for specialisation, he cedes, was tactical, with an element of uncertainty.
“The reason for that was to get into a World Cup squad in 2021,” he says. “That looked a long way off when I went out and played all these franchise tournaments and I guess I thought I was closer to a Test squad then than what I was.”
“Over the last couple of years I’ve pretty much lived life day by day, enjoying the fact that we’re travelling the world… we’re going to all these cool different countries to play in their franchise tournaments. I’ve learned that you really don’t know what tomorrow can bring and, if anything, this sort of proves that. If you asked me two or three months ago if I was going to be playing in this Test series, I’d have said probably not.”
And yet, there is an element of fate to how things have panned out over the last month, starting with the victory in 2022’s edition of the T20 World Cup, then this call-up. Australia was the site of both, in many ways. Prior to the tournament, Stokes, a long-term friend of Livingstone, took the 29-year-old to one side to ask if he’d be interested in coming to Pakistan. It was a very quick yes. “When Stokes and Baz ask you if you want to play Test cricket, it’s quite hard to say no to them two.”
It would also have been hard given as a kid, long before Twenty20, let alone franchise competitions, this offer was the stuff of garden hit and giggles.
“The two things whenever I played in the garden with my brother was you’re either playing Test cricket for England or playing for England in a World Cup. So I guess being able to live them two dreams over the last couple of weeks and even more so win a World Cup and make my Test debut two weeks later is pretty cool.”
While we’re on family, it’s worth bringing in Livingstone’s father. A Facebook post from Steve Livingstone on November 12 talking about the imminent pride of travelling to Australia to watch his son in a World Cup final went viral on social media. Will he be able to do the double and see his son make his Test debut?
“No,” answers Livingstone. “It was a trade off, he didn’t know which one to do. I guess being able to see your son win a World Cup would have been too hard to turn down. I don’t know what he would have done if we’d have lost that final but… thankfully that all worked out really well.
“It’s a very proud moment to give back for years and years of driving up and down the M6 three times a week for three or four years while I was still at school and college. I owe a lot to mum and dad and I guess tomorrow will probably be more about them than it will be about me.”
Even contained within the support, there was the odd moment his father could not hide the fact that Livingstone’s career looked like it was taking him away from this moment.
“Dad has always said he wants me to play Test cricket. Even times when I’ve had chats with him thinking I’m probably not going to get that opportunity anymore, you could always see in his face that he was quite disappointed with that.”
The closest he came before was a 2018 tour of New Zealand in which he was a non-playing squad member. That came off the back of his most productive first-class season for Lancashire, with two centuries within 805 runs at an average of 42.36, which followed an England Lions winter in which he scored twin hundreds against Sri Lanka A in the same match. Though the immediate red-ball experience between then and now is very different, he rates himself better equipped now for the whims of Test cricket.
“I guess I don’t really have the red-ball cricket behind me of what I did back then, but I definitely didn’t have the experience back then of what I do now. The situations and challenges that are going to come up, I’m sure I’ll have seen them all before.
“It doesn’t matter what colour the ball is, what format of cricket you play. There are always challenges you’ve got to take on. I’m sure this week will be no different. It’s the bit that excites me, the different challenges that can come up in five days of cricket rather than 20 overs of cricket.”
No doubt the big hits will grab the attention. Stokes even went as far to state earlier in the week that Livingstone will try and clear the media centre at the Rawalpindi ground. But it is his part-time bowling, of leg spin and off spin that has him ahead of Surrey’s Will Jacks as the third spinner, behind Jack Leach and Joe Root. It has long been a nifty short-form selling point for Livingstone to clubs and country. Now, Stokes hopes it will have the same effect of almost coaxing dismissals out of quiet passages of play.
“Having the skill-set to do different things is what has made me very selectable for Baz and Ben,” he boasts, matter-of-factly. “I’ll see what we need, what fits best at that certain time. It doesn’t always mean spinning the ball away from the bat: there may be rough outside a left-hander’s off stump that you can use to bowl leg-spin into, so being open-minded and making sure I can use them skill-sets to my advantage and ultimately try and make an impact of England winning a Test.”
Whether the bowling translates to the longest format is all part of a bigger conversation as to whether Livingstone will translate to the longest format. Given how vague the predictions have been regarding conditions for the next three Tests, this might only be a selection for the here and now.
Either way, a cricketer who has long been a glorious fantasy as a Test cricketer will soon become a reality. And there is perhaps no better setting for it to happen than in a group that encourages participants and observers to dream big.
” The last couple of days, being around the environment, it’s been very different to the previous Test squad I was in,” Livingstone reflects. “The messaging is very simple, very clear and I guess the way I play my cricket is probably going to fit perfectly with the way Baz and Stokesy want to play their cricket. I’m just really excited for what’s to come.”
As are the rest of us.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo
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