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Multimillion, multi-purpose Livingstone cements status as T20 superstar

Punjab Kings' new signing can bat anywhere, scores quickly, bowls offbreaks and legbreaks, and is a safe pair of hands in the deep

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
13-Feb-2022
Livingstone attracted bids from five different teams and became the 2022 IPL auctions' most expensive overseas player  •  Harry Trump/Getty Images

Livingstone attracted bids from five different teams and became the 2022 IPL auctions' most expensive overseas player  •  Harry Trump/Getty Images

A year ago, Liam Livingstone was a base-price purchase for Rajasthan Royals at INR 75 lakh (£75,000 GBP approx.). On Sunday, he attracted bids from five different teams and became the auction's most expensive overseas player, fetching a price of INR 11.5 crore (£1.125 million GBP approx.) as Punjab Kings saw off competition from Chennai Super Kings, Kolkata Knight Riders, Gujarat Titans and Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Livingstone's payday confirms his status as one of the world's most desirable T20 players and caps his remarkable rise over the past 12 months. He made 42 runs in five innings in last year's tournament, struggling for rhythm in the UAE, but Punjab have faith that he will translate his form elsewhere into match-winning performances this season.
He may only have won 20 international caps but Livingstone has a huge appeal to T20 teams - not just in the IPL, but around the world too - because of his versatility. He bats anywhere from No. 1-7; he scores quickly against pace and spin; he bowls offbreaks and legbreaks in the same over; and he is a safe pair of hands fielding in the deep.
Livingstone has spent most of his T20 career for Lancashire opening the batting but is likely to shuffle down to No. 4 or 5 for Punjab, with Mayank Agarwal and Shikhar Dhawan set to open the batting. "[Jonny] Bairstow and Livingstone play together for the same team," Anil Kumble, Punjab's head coach, said, "and [will] probably play the same, or similar, roles for us."
It is a role with which Livingstone is now familiar. Recognising the logjam at the top of England's batting lineup three years ago, he formulated a medium-term plan to gain experience in the middle order - and in different conditions - by playing franchise cricket during the English winter. From PSL to MSL, Big Bash to T10: if a league exists, Livingstone has probably played in it.
Following a four-year absence after two appearances in 2017, Livingstone won an England recall in early 2021: first during their ODI series in India, then in their home T20 internationals against Sri Lanka. In his third innings back in the T20I side, he produced one of England's best-ever white-ball innings, hitting 103 off 43 balls against Pakistan, and has hardly looked back. Since the start of the T20 Blast in June, he has averaged 34.57 with a strike rate of 158.68, hitting 62 sixes in 33 innings. "I just rode the wave," he said.
He was the breakout star of the inaugural edition of the Hundred, taking Birmingham Phoenix to the final with a series of remarkable innings to finish as the competition's leading run-scorer, leading six-hitter and MVP. And after struggling in the IPL, he was a key player for England in the T20 World Cup - this time, with the ball.
It was a surprise to many back home that Livingstone did not bowl a ball for Rajasthan last season - not least because Glenn Phillips, a wicketkeeper by trade, did. But England put faith in his mixture of offspin and legspin in the UAE, and he took six wickets for them while conceding 5.73 runs an over across the World Cup, including 1 for 22 in the semi-final against New Zealand.
The financial aspect of Livingstone's deal is significant. There was a premium on his name because of his adaptability, but also due to the dearth of viable overseas players with experience finishing an innings and the ability to chip in with the ball
"People call him a part-timer," Eoin Morgan, their captain, said. "He's not. He's an allrounder. We trust his bowling a lot." Carl Crowe, the spin-bowling coach, has been working with Livingstone to improve his googly over the winter at Lancashire.
"His batting is already taking lots of interest round the world, but I think people in franchise tournaments might start considering him as an allrounder now," Crowe told ESPNcricinfo last month. "That adds value, not only to him monetarily, but also to whichever team he's playing for."
The financial aspect of Livingstone's deal is significant. There was a premium on his name because of his adaptability, but also due to the dearth of viable overseas players with experience finishing an innings and the ability to chip in with the ball. As the demand for Shimron Hetmyer, Tim David and Odean Smith showed, proven six-hitters at the death are highly sought-after.
Countless players have struggled under the pressure of a high price tag in previous IPL seasons and while Livingstone is paid well by Lancashire and his various T20 franchises, he has never had the security of a central contract from the ECB. His million-pound deal may well be more significant to him than it would be for other England players.
"I'm sure Livi will be just fine," Tymal Mills, who had to cope with the scrutiny of a 12.5 crore (then £1.4m) price tag after the 2017 auction, told ESPNcricinfo. "When I arrived at RCB five years ago, one of the first things that Dan Vettori was keen to do was tell me not to worry about the money and just focus on the cricket: if a team has decided to buy you for X amount, you can't see that as anything but a positive. He won't be overawed by that or feel the pressure of it: he'll just go out and do his thing."
A subplot to Livingstone's pick-up is the involvement of Dan Weston, who was part of Punjab Kings' set-up for the first time as an analyst. Weston pushed hard for Birmingham Phoenix to sign Livingstone with their first pick in the inaugural Hundred draft back in 2019, when every other team went for an overseas player. That decision paid off handsomely; Punjab will hope their move does too.
£1 GBP = INR 102 (approx)

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98