Matches (13)
T20 World Cup (3)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
SL vs WI [W] (1)

Liam Livingstone rise justifies Birmingham Phoenix faith in top draft pick

Two years on from the inaugural Hundred draft the England allrounder is in the form of his life

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
There were raised eyebrows when Birmingham Phoenix used their first pick of the Hundred's inaugural draft in October 2019 to sign Liam Livingstone, but with the tournament finally underway nearly two years on, it looks like a shrewd piece of business.
The other seven men's teams in the competition opted to use their first picks of the draft to sign overseas players, but with the pandemic and the international schedule prompting a swathe of last-minute withdrawals, only two of the first seven picks - Rashid Khan (Trent Rockets) and Sunil Narine (Oval Invincibles) - are still with the teams that initially signed them.
Livingstone, meanwhile, comes into the tournament on the back of what he has labelled the best week of his career, following his breakthrough in international cricket via a record-breaking 42-ball hundred in England's first T20I against Pakistan last Friday. The series served as vindication for those involved in planning for the draft.
While it was impossible to foresee the raft of withdrawals caused by the pandemic and restrictions on international travel, the Phoenix decided that their prospects of winning future editions of the tournament would be better if they form a strong domestic core and filled gaps with overseas players, rather than relying on their stars - following the model of recruitment that has proved successful for the IPL's most successful sides, Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings.
"When we came out of the velvet bag last, that meant we knew that to an extent, the real cream of the overseas talent would have gone by the time we made our first pick," Craig Flindall, the Phoenix's general manager, explained. "We were very strong from the outset about trying to create longevity, and we thought that was based around strong domestic players, rather than the overseas players who might not be available and come in and out."
Having already signed Moeen Ali as a 'local icon' before the draft, the Phoenix set about finding another top-order batter who could provide a realistic bowling option, giving them more freedom and flexibility in how they picked both their squad and their final XI.
"We were looking for a top-order batsman who bowled a little bit and thought he could complement Moeen Ali really well," Daniel Vettori, the assistant coach at the time who will fill in for Andrew McDonald as interim head coach this season. "We also thought that if we went with an overseas player in that spot, would they be available?
"To be fair to Andrew and Dan Weston [the Phoenix's analyst], they saw Liam's upside as well. All those factors combined allowed us to get to this position now where we've got one of the best English T20 - or 100-ball, hopefully - players in the comp. That gave us so much balance in our selections further down the line."
While Livingstone has - in all likelihood - played himself into England's T20 World Cup squad thanks to his recent performances, the wealth of batting options available leave his place in the starting XI unclear. As a result, he knows that performances over the next four weeks could be crucial for his hopes.
"It's the last big tournament before World Cup selection so there's a lot riding on it for a lot of people," he said. "I think there's no secret to the way that Morgs [Eoin Morgan] wants us to play our cricket.
"He basically said go and take as many wickets and score as many runs as you can. The way we've played our cricket over the last couple of years will probably suit the way that the Hundred's going to be played. There's obviously a big tournament coming up [the World Cup] but for now we've got the Hundred to concentrate on."
Having joined up with the squad on Thursday afternoon, he does not yet know where he will bat for Phoenix. Finn Allen, the New Zealand batter, is certain to open, with Daniel Bell-Drummond and Moeen Ali other candidates to join him, and it may well be that after his success in a middle order role last week, Livingstone is best served in the long term by slotting in at No. 4.
As for his own form, Livingstone admitted that it felt "strange" for things to have clicked so quickly for him after 10 days of self-isolation following the third Bristol ODI, and hoped that his career-best form could extend into the new competition.
"It's strange," he said. "I've probably never had a better week in my career, for obvious reasons, but it's only been three games of cricket. Before that, we had 10 days in isolation. It's nice to come out of a period of 10 days away from cricket to come straight into it and play the way I did.
"It's always been something I've struggled with, going into tournaments or changing formats, starting too slowly and having to catch up. It's obviously been a great week for me and I'm looking forward to taking that confidence forward into the Hundred."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98