“If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”
He had already opted out of the final day’s optional ground training before players began reporting symptoms late on Tuesday. “I spent most of the morning on the golf simulator,” he says, like a man who’d been walking, bleary-eyed, to and from his local store to buy a Diet Coke in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. “It was kind of weird. Everyone went down one by one. Luckily I’ve been free so far.
“I’ve just been chilling upstairs, had breakfast with Sax (Mark Saxby) who’s just come back from being sick, so I haven’t seen anyone. I don’t know what’s going on. Luckily it’s way above me (the decision on whether the test will start as planned) I’m staying way out of it I’m preparing like I’m going to make my debut tomorrow which is that if it doesn’t happen it won’t happen but I’m not going to waste energy thinking about what will happen tomorrow.”
Much has been made of the decision to hand over cap number 708 to a player who last played first-class cricket in early September 2021 and has since earned his reputation – and money – around the world as a gun-for-hire franchise, both abroad and at home, most notably when he wore the first edition of The Hundred as part of Birmingham Phoenix. That decision to specialize, he admits, was tactical, with an element of uncertainty.
“The reason for that was to be in a World Cup selection in 2021,” he says. “That seemed a long way off when I went out and played all these franchise tournaments and I think at the time I thought I was closer to a Test team than what I was.”
“For the past few years I’ve been living life more or less day to day, enjoying the fact that we travel the world… we go to all these cool different countries to play in their franchise tournaments. I’ “I’ve learned that you really don’t know what tomorrow may bring, and this certainly proves it. If you had asked me two or three months ago if I would play in this Test series, I would have said probably not.”
And yet there is an element of fate in how things have played out over the past month, starting with victory in the 2022 edition of the T20 World Cup, and then this call-up. Australia was in many ways the location of both. Before the tournament, Stokes, a long-time friend of Livingstone, took the 29-year-old aside to ask if he would 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 pretty hard to say no to those two.”
It would have been hard as a kid too, long before Twenty20 let alone franchise games, this offering was the stuff of yard hit and giggles.
“The two things when I played in the garden with my brother were whether you are playing Test cricket for England or playing for England in a World Cup. So I think I can fulfill those two dreams in the last few weeks and even more, win a World Cup and making my test debut two weeks later is pretty cool.
While we’re visiting family, it’s worth calling in Livingstone’s dad. A November 12 Facebook post from Steve Livingstone in which he spoke of the imminent pride of traveling to Australia to see his son in a World Cup final went viral on social media. Will he be able to do the double and watch his son make his test debut?
“No,” Livingstone replies. “It was a trade-off, he didn’t know what to do. I think it would have been too hard to see your son win a World Cup. I don’t know what he would have done if we lost that final, but … fortunately that all turned out 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 three or four times a week while I was still in school and university. I owe a lot to Mum and Dad and I think tomorrow will probably be more about them than me.”
Even within the support, there was the odd moment his father couldn’t hide that Livingstone’s career seemed to take him away from this moment.
“Dad has always said he wants me to play Test Cricket. Even when I’ve had conversations with him and thought I probably wouldn’t get that chance again, you could always tell by his face that he was pretty disappointed about that.”
The closest he came before was a tour of New Zealand in 2018, during which he was a non-playing team member. That followed his most prolific first-class season for Lancashire, with two centuries in 805 runs at an average of 42.36, following an England Lions winter in which he scored two hundred against Sri Lanka A in the same match. -ball experience is very different between then and now, he now considers himself better equipped for the vagaries of Test cricket.
“I guess I don’t really have the red-ball cricket behind me of what I did then, but I certainly didn’t have the experience then of what I do now. The situations and challenges that will arise, I’m sure I will all seen before.
“It doesn’t matter what color the ball is, what format of cricket you play. There are always challenges you have to face. I’m sure this week will be no different. It’s the part that excites me, the different challenges that could occur in five days of cricket rather than 20 overs cricket.”
No doubt the big hits will draw attention. Stokes went so far as to declare earlier this week that Livingstone will attempt to clear the media center on the Rawalpindi compound. But it’s his part-time bowling, of leg spin and off spin, that puts him ahead of Surrey’s Will Jacks as third spinner, behind Jack Leach and Joe Root. It has long been a useful selling point for Livingstone in clubs and country. Now Stokes hopes it will have the same effect in getting layoffs almost out of quiet game passages.
“Having the skills to do different things has made me very picky about Baz and Ben,” he brags matter-of-factly. “I’ll see what we need, what fits best at that particular moment. It doesn’t always mean turning the ball away from the bat: there can be rough outside a southpaw’s stump that you can use to leg- spin in it so be open minded and make sure I can use those skills to my advantage and ultimately try to impress England by winning a test.
Whether the bowling translates to longest format is all part of a larger conversation about whether Livingstone translates to longest format. Given how vague the predictions have been regarding the conditions for the next three tests, this may just be a selection for the here and now.
Anyway, 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 this to happen than in a group that encourages participants and observers to dream big.
“The last few days, in the environment, it has been very different from the previous test team I was in,” Livingstone recalls. “The messages are very simple, very clear and I think the way I play my cricket will probably fit perfectly with the way Baz and Stokesy want to play their cricket. I’m just really excited about what’s to come.”
Just like the rest of us.
Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo