Matches (17)
PAK v WI [W] (1)
IPL (2)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
WT20 WC QLF (Warm-up) (5)
Feature

'Learning the art of spin is pretty cool' - Liam Livingstone's spin evolution paying dividends for England

Learning from Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali off the field and sharing spin duties with them on it has translated into a surplus of options at Eoin Morgan's disposal

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
31-Oct-2021
Perhaps the only downside to England's thumping victories in their opening three matches of the T20 World Cup has been the lack of match practice afforded to their middle order. Eoin Morgan, Liam Livingstone and Moeen Ali have so far faced 13 balls between them, all in their opening match against West Indies, while no one below No. 6 has yet made it to the crease.
Fortunately, Adil Rashid has been on hand in the nets to sate his team-mates' hunger in an innovative fashion, by offering to buy dinner for any batter who can hit a designated ball for six. It is a challenge to which Livingstone has already managed to rise.
"It was four or six off the last ball, and he hit me for a massive six," Rashid said, on the eve of England's fourth match against Sri Lanka in Sharjah. "I enjoy going in the nets and working like that, with four or six to win. It gives the batsman and myself a bit more to think about.
"I think it was some kind of sushi," Rashid added of his team-mate's menu choice. "I know he ordered a lot more than he usually does, anyway."
The anecdote offers a revealing insight into the calm, confident and collected mindset that England's squad has adopted for this campaign, and further cements the impression - so far revealed only through his bowling displays - that Livingstone is emerging as one of the most pivotal players in the team.
Livingstone fell second ball for 1 against West Indies as England stumbled a touch in their rush to wrap up a facile target of 56, and that followed a fallow run of form on these same surfaces for Rajasthan Royals in the final rounds of the IPL. But he hasn't had a chance to fret about that side of his game, because he's been too busy getting stuck into his second string instead. Against Australia he produced the evening's most economical figures of 1 for 15 in four overs, which took his combined tournament figures to a remarkable 3 for 30 in seven overs to date.
And to judge by his interview on Sky Sports in the wake of that demolition job, Livingstone knows he is living the dream. Watching the "genius" of Jos Buttler at close quarters was a "pleasure", he said, but so too has been the chance to work alongside a trio of outstanding bowling mentors in Rashid, Moeen and Jeetan Patel, England's spin coach - all of whom have been able to offer him priceless technical and tactical insight, as he hones his rare ability to serve up offspin and legbreaks with equal prowess.
"Learning the art of spin is pretty cool, especially to go alongside my batting," Livingstone said. "It's a perfect scenario for me. I've done loads of work with Jeets, he's been brilliant with me. He's tried to change me as a bowler, to hit a much better length, and not miss full, and I've learnt so much off Mo and Rash. I've got an offspinner and a legspinner that have probably been two of the best in the world for many years now.
"So I'm pretty blessed that I get to get to work with these guys, day in, day out. It's something I really enjoy and thankfully all that hard work is starting to pay off. To be able to spin the ball away from the bat when teams are under pressure is a great thing to have. I've worked really hard on it for moments like this."
His emergence with the ball has also covered over one of the apparent oversights in England's 15-man squad. The decision not to call upon a specialist third spinner such as Hampshire's Liam Dawson - an unused reserve in the 50-over World Cup and a functional left-armer who rarely lets anyone down - implied that England might need to go heavy on their seam options to ensure they didn't end up a bowler light in the wrong circumstances.
Instead, such were the options available to Morgan thanks to Livingstone's reliability, he didn't need even a single over from Moeen against Australia, even though his displays in the first two games had arguably made him England's player of the tournament to date.
"Livi's definitely come on," Rashid said. "He keeps things very simple, which is very good for a spin bowler. He knows his game. The game has moved on from 10, 15 years ago now where people are bowling offies, leggies to the left-hander and right-hander, and he's definitely got that skill. He's definitely got a very clear mind, he's got a good temperament, and he's determined to improve as well. And he's bowled exceptionally well so far this tournament, so for Morgs that's another big plus."
Instead of Moeen, it was Rashid who took the first over of the powerplay against Australia, largely to ensure that Aaron Finch didn't capitalise on the offspinner turning the ball into his hitting arc. And though Finch endured until the 19th over of the innings, meaning that Moeen wasn't called upon at any stage of the innings, the tactic was vindicated by his sluggish return of 44 from 49 balls - nine of which came from the 11 deliveries he faced from Livingstone.
"Whatever decisions the captain makes, we're all happy," Rashid said. "As a bowler you always want to bowl in a game, you always want to take part, and some days you're not required. There's nothing personal to that, it's just the situation of the game. That's the way Morgs works, and he goes on his instinct."
Morgan's management of a spin-heavy Kolkata Knight Riders' attack was a key factor in their progression to the IPL final last month, and Rashid confirmed that his approach to England's options wasn't simply a case of last-minute hunches.
"Myself and Morgs have spoken over time," he said. "It's some conditions and some circumstances where I may be required to open the bowling first-up. It wasn't a surprise, it was more of a thing of 'here you go, first over, have a go and see what you can do'. It's not a case of walking onto the pitch and the captain says 'you're bowling the first over' and it's a bit of a shock to you. You can get your mind around it and how you want to go about it."
Rashid in the powerplay was a regular ploy during England's five-match series in India in March, and he insisted that his approach is largely unaffected by the stage at which he called upon.
"The gameplan is very similar, whether I'm bowling in the powerplay or later," he said. "Obviously you accept they might hit a few fours and a few sixes. But if you have that mindset right to create chances for the team, you can create some doubt in the batsmen: 'is it a wrong 'un, is it a leggy? Is it a slider?'
"So my mindset, whether I'm bowling the first over or the later overs, nothing really changes."
The same, you sense, is true of an England team that could hardly have laid down a more emphatic statement at this stage of their campaign.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket