Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Liam Livingstone will make his England Test debut against Pakistan in Rawalpindi on Thursday.
Livingstone, 29, will be one of two new faces named by skipper Ben Stokes for the first Test from the team that ended the English summer. Ben Duckett will partner Zak Crawley at the top of the order, replacing Alex Lees who was dropped for this tour, adding to his four Test appearances from 2016-17, against Bangladesh and India. Yorkshire batter Harry Brook keeps his spot at No. 5, having replaced the injured Jonny Bairstow at the Kia Oval in the final match of the South Africa series.
Livingstone, picked on this tour for his capabilities as a spinner along with his ball-striking which has made him a go-to signing on the Twenty20 circuit, last played a competitive red-ball match at the end of the 2021 summer for Lancashire. Both of his first-class averages are in the high 30s: 38.36 with the bat and 36.13 with the ball.
His selection in the XI is ultimately for his potential, bombastic upside. As head coach Brendon McCullum put it on Monday: "He bowls offspin, legspin, fields well and smacks the ball out of the park - it's hard not to get around a player who plays like that." Ultimately, the call was between him and Surrey's batting allrounder Will Jacks, who bowls offspin. Livingstone got the nod on account of offering both wrist and finger spin.
"The only real discussion we thought was worth having was whether we go with Jacksy or Livi," Stokes said. "I think given the place where Livi's going to play and as that third spinner role, it's quite nice to have someone who turns it both ways. And quite nice the way he applies himself with the bat - very similar to Jacksy, but having that legspin and offspin possibility with Livi was a big plus for us."
Stokes referring to Livingstone as a "third spinner" is down to wanting to utilise Joe Root's offspin alongside the left-arm orthodox of Jack Leach, who is regarded as the frontline spinner. Livingstone will supplement both.
"With Livi he's one of those cricketers who can come on from anywhere and take a wicket when the ball's flowing a bit the opposition's way. I've already spoken to Rooty as well. I'm going to try to use him quite a lot. I think he underuses himself. He's actually got some very good assets as an offspin bowler. He's been working very hard on his bowling."
The presentation of a maiden Test cap this week will round off a special month or so for Livingstone, who was part of England's successful T20 World Cup campaign in Australia. As a verified specialist in the shortest format, notably from an English perspective when he carried the first edition of the Hundred in 2021, it perhaps bodes well that someone like him would relish the chance to play the longest format.
Stokes revealed he spoke to Livingstone about the prospect of playing a part in these Test matches a couple of months ago. The response he got back was encouraging. His lack of first-class action has featured less as a worry and more as a punchline over the last fortnight. Stokes joked that Livingstone "will probably try to hit a few over this media centre, no doubt".
"It was a pretty simple conversation I had with him, actually before we went out to Australia for the World Cup. I obviously told him where we stood in terms of him playing some red-ball cricket out in the subcontinent.
"With the skill he has with the ball and the way he plays with the bat, [he] is very aligned with how me and Baz want to see the team play. He jumped at the opportunity. I don't necessarily think that not playing a red-ball game is going to be too much of a thing for him. He's a very natural cricketer, he's going to go out there and really express himself. So yeah looking forward to seeing him in the whites. He did say when he got his white pads out of the bag 'what are these?'"
Duckett, while also selected on style of play, has earned a recall on an impressive showing last season with Nottinghamshire. He struck 1012 runs at an average of 72.28, at a rate of 76.09 - that last figure as much a pro for this management group as the three centuries. He underlined his expansive play in the T20 series in Pakistan a few months ago with 233 runs at 46.60 (strike rate 159.58), which gave Stokes in particular a nudge he was the man for the job ahead of the other opener in the squad, Keaton Jennings.
"Ducky showed out here in the T20s just how good he is against spin bowling," Stokes said. "To have someone at the top like him who can mess around with the fields and make it a captain's nightmare because he sweeps both ways, and we know how much of a part spin plays out in this area. Excited to have him at the top."
Brook's selection, meanwhile, is a continuation from the summer in which he carried drinks before making his bow in the format in the final South Africa Test. He scored 12 in his only innings of that match but comes off the back of a stellar season with Yorkshire: a monster average of 107.44, with three hundreds - including a career best 194 against Kent - and a final tally of 967 from just eight matches.
"The way in which Harry's gone about his first-class cricket over the last year, we won't see much difference out here in the subcontinent," Stokes said. "Another one who's a perfect like for like in the way they play for Jonny. He [Bairstow] is a big miss in this Test team out here, but very blessed to have someone like Brooky to replace him."
Stokes also discussed the importance of approaching this tour of Pakistan with an understanding life is more important than cricket. On Monday, the England captained revealed he would be dominating his match fees, understood to be approximately £50,000 (US$60,000) for this tour to the Pakistan flood appeal.
"Coming here is a monumental time for English cricket and for Pakistan as a nation. There are bigger things to life than cricket. The floods were devastating to the country, and me coming out here and representing my country, bringing the sport back to the nation. There are things that go on in life that are bigger than sport and I felt compelled just to give something that is bigger than cricket."
Donations to the appeal can be made via the Disasters Emergency Committee.