Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
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Lancashire 347 for 7 (Livingstone 114, Croft 51) v Leicestershire
Scorecards blow away on the skittish river-borne breeze; spectators fill the temporary stands early and arrange their belongings with temporary neatness; uniformed staff scurry hither and yon; familiar players gaze suspiciously at unfamiliar earth; early fours are appreciated more than is usual; it all feels as though a village fete has been opened; even John Gwynne, the public address announcer, is cracking jokes; beyond the Beechwood Road boundary, Larkin's castles thresh riotously; Aigburth is a place of chill winds and warm hearts; of tents and enthusiasm; of outground cricket.
Yet it is also a place where 250 can be a competitive total. For every Beckenham there are three other outgrounds where the newish ball will nip around like an enraged terrier. It takes a rather special batsman to make light of such conditions but Liam Livingstone's cricket has always scorned categorization. Perhaps, therefore, it was well-suited to the hazards of this morning; and perhaps the surprise of this afternoon's play should not have surprised us at all.
For Livingstone's first century since August 2017 was filled with the type of shots hardly anyone else in England can replicate and by the time his attempted drive off Neil Dexter's medium pace skied a catch to Mark Cosgrove at mid-on Lancashire's score was 264 for 6. By the close, the quiet enterprise of Josh Bohannon and Tom Bailey had taken their team to within one good hit of four batting bonus points. Four hours earlier they had been 128 for 5.
As ever with Livingstone, there had been risk as the bat described unlikely arcs and the Barrovian played shots beyond fantasy. Arriving in the middle with his side on 46 for two, he played a fur-coat-and-no-knickers drive to his second ball before threading his third to the backward point boundary. Next over there was that rare outground event, an all-run four, although since the ball was chased by mighty Cosgrove who had to dive to stop it, some thought four runs to be conservative: a bid of one spade when three diamonds were possible.
Eventually Livingstone replaced his more exotic strokes with relative orthodoxy and his patience in waiting for the ball to hit was a particular feature of his innings. The fall of wickets encouraged daring but not recklessness. After all, Lancashire had lost Keaton Jennings to the third ball of the morning when nothing but the momentum of a forward defensive shot dragged him out of his ground and he was run out by Hassan Azad's eye-deceiving pick-up and throw from short leg. Haseeb Hameed and Jake Lehmann then put on 46 in next door to a run a minute until both fell to Dieter Klein who had replaced Mohammad Abbas at the River End. Lehmann played a skew-whiff shot to a ball which kept low but Hameed was beaten by one which nipped off the pitch and took the edge en route to Harry Swindells. This was a particular shame given that the opener had looked in good touch for his 30 runs.
Just before lunch Abbas drew Rob Jones forward and Swindells once again did the needful. Lancashire took their lunch on 102 for four and Dane Vilas's flurry of boundaries on the resumption was followed by his dismissal for 34 in similar fashion to that of Jones. Steven Croft, ever the man for a tough battle in dark times, joined Vilas. Gradually they changed the shape of the day and, who knows, the match. Whenever Livingstone attacked he did so without restraint; whenever he defended, the stroke had an almost scholarly attention to detail. His slapped four off Dexter had the air of a man who wanted to punish the ball for some misdemeanour or other. His defence against Abbas, who was, with Klein, Leicestershire's main threat, had something of Threadneedle Street about it.
Inevitably with Livingstone, there were eccentric moments; the lad's from Barrow and it goes with his territory. When a ball slipped from Klein's grip and became a slow, looping beamer, Livingstone played an overhead smash of which Rafael Nadal might have been proud. Nonetheless, Livingstone reached his fifty off 106 balls which reflected something of his patience. However after Callum Parkinson dropped him on 71 - it was a horrid skier off Ackermann -Lancashire's former skipper exacted punishment on both participants, first by slog-sweeping Ackermann for a gigantic six and then by driving Parkinson for another. He was 96 not out when Parkinson bowled the last two balls before tea. Livingstone defended the both with exaggerated orthodoxy. He might have been winking to the crowd.
Livingstone reached his hundred immediately after the resumption and had extended his partnership with Croft to 136 when he was dismissed by Dexter. By then the ball was old and the day was ageing, too. The balance of affairs had shifted and they had done so because a 25-year-old with great potential had taken the match into his own hands. Steven Croft batted well, too, but there were times when he did not so much play second fiddle to his partner as turn his sheet music.
To ask Livingstone to eliminate risk from his cricket is to ask him to be somebody else. It is unfair to delight in the shots he plays and then berate him for irresponsibility. Bohannon and Bailey's unbroken 64-run stand was only possible because Livingstone had reshaped the day's cricket. So much was recognised by the crowd in the stands even as they kept in touch with the World Cup and prepared to leave a sunlit Aigburth.
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