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Match Analysis

Liam Livingstone nails his audition to prove he's too good for England's bench

Breaking into this white-ball side is a tough task, but this was a bid for highest honours

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Liam Livingstone made a 42-ball century, the fastest in England's T20I history  •  Getty Images

Liam Livingstone made a 42-ball century, the fastest in England's T20I history  •  Getty Images

Imagine you're a national selector or a franchise's general manager. Who is your dream T20 player?
Ideally, he'd be an allrounder who can offer something with the bat, the ball, and in the field. He's got experience in five different global leagues, slotting into teams and adapting to several different conditions. He prefers batting at the top of the order, but is just as comfortable in the middle. He's a gun fielder in the outfield. He offers you a bowling option in all three phases of an innings. Oh, and he can bowl offbreaks and legbreaks in the same over.
England's fringe players have long described their white-ball teams as the hardest sports teams to get into in the world but Liam Livingstone is bucking the trend. As the T20 World Cup comes into view, he has locked in a seat on the plane - his versatility means that he is the ultimate squad player - but it is increasingly hard to see how they can leave him out of their starting XI.
"T20 cricket at Trent Bridge is pure entertainment," Ben Stokes tweeted as England were going round the park. Eoin Morgan noted afterwards that it would provide them with ideal preparation for any World Cup games hosted at Sharjah later this year, where the average score batting first in the 2020 IPL was 178 and the boundaries are equally short.
Due to a quirk of scheduling, Trent Bridge had not hosted a T20 international since 2012, but in the intervening time Nottinghamshire have embraced the carnage and blitzed their way to two Vitality Blast titles in the last four years, while England's ODI gunslingers have twice broken the world record here. With one square boundary of 57 metres and a pitch flatter than the Radcliffe Road, this was T20 after three double vodka-Red Bulls, simultaneously doubling the heart rate and removing any inhibitions.
Livingstone arrived at the crease - with a new bleach-blond haircut emulating Paul Gascoigne and Phil Foden - in the fifth over, with England 48 for 3 in a chase of 233 and after conceding 24 from his two overs of all-sorts spin. Jason Roy was flying on 30 off 10 balls, but they were scoring below the rate and losing wickets. The old-school method would be to nudge the ball around and get Roy on strike as much as possible, but Livingstone is as modern as they come.
His fourth ball brought a stroke of luck. Looking to heave Haris Rauf into the leg side, he offered a chance to Mohammad Hasnain via a thick outside edge, but he could only parry him over the rope at deep third. Seizing his moment, Livingstone took a deep breath, then nailed the next two balls for four and six through square leg.
Immediately after the powerplay, Pakistan turned to Shadab Khan, who had enjoyed some success against Livingstone in their PSL meetings (36 balls, 35 runs, two dismissals). But one of Livingstone's great strengths is his ability to play with a clear mind: he was greeted by two drag-downs, and mowed both of them into the stands. In his next over, his eyes lit up once more: a wristy thump down the ground, a pull for four through midwicket and a swipe over long-off, bringing up England's fastest T20I fifty - off 17 balls - in the process.
There was, briefly, some respite. From 61 off 20 balls, Livingstone hit nine of his next ten for singles, occasionally losing his shape as Pakistan's seamers found a hint of reverse-swing thanks to the ball getting scuffed after flying into the stands, and Shadab hid the ball wide outside his off stump.
Then, with a whip through midwicket off the exceptional Mohammad Hasnain, he was back, turning 70 off 30 into a 42-ball hundred. Any error in execution from the seamers was met with a crack of the wrists or a free swing of the arms and when he slugged Shadab over long-on to reach his hundred, he refused even to smile, thumping the England badge on his chest with 50 still needed off 22 balls. He holed out to long-on one ball later and dragged his feet as he trudged off, but this was not a night for regrets.
Livingstone's improvement since his first two T20I appearances in 2017 has been stark and he is clear in his convictions that he has come a long way since then. He represents much of what is right about the English game: born in Cumbria, developed by Lancashire, refined in global leagues and returning to international cricket as a vastly-improved player to the version first seen four years ago. Morgan described it as equal to any innings he had seen from an England player in the last six years and there was no evidence of hyperbole.
The challenge now is how to fit him into a first-choice England team, with so many batters fighting for a handful of spots and with Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes both missing tonight's game through injury. But tonight's evidence was unequivocal: Livingstone is too good not to play the first game of October's T20 World Cup.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98