Critics who believe the Vitality Blast has been mediocre this season will find that Lancashire Lightning skipper Liam Livingstone is prepared to give them an argument. As he sought to prepare his team for their seventh Finals Day – and their third in the last five years – Livingstone gave the current short-form competition an unqualified endorsement.
“I don’t think anyone can argue the Blast this year hasn’t been a great competition,” he said. “It’s been great to be involved in. We’ve had great crowds and the games between Yorkshire and Lancashire in particular, especially the one I was involved in at Old Trafford, were as good as anything in the world. I don’t really think there’s much wrong with the Blast and it’s great to be part of it.”
Part of the attraction for Livingstone has been seeing the some of the best short-form players in the country pitted against each other and he is excited by the prospect of seeing Jos Buttler return to Edgbaston, where he helped Lancashire win their first Blast in 2015. Lancashire face relegation in the Championship so this is a chance for them to take some significant success from the season.
“We’re very lucky to be able to bring one of the best white-ball players in the world into our line-up,” he said. “Jos is great to have in the team, and because he’s a wicketkeeper he sees everything from the perfect angle. He’s always there giving advice and helping where needs be. To have someone of his character is great for the squad, he’s very calm under pressure.
“But we’ve also got Keaton Jennings back as well and he’s done really well for us in white-ball cricket this year. Keaton has sort of been our rock in the middle order in T20 cricket. He’s won us games and played unbelievably well. He will fit seamlessly back in and it’s great to have someone with his quality to bring back.
“All in all, to be able to bring those two back into the team is a massive confidence boost for all the lads. I think everyone is just really excited. Coming up in the bus this morning we were all like kids at Christmas.”
And one player who is more excited than most by the festivities is 21-year-old leg-spinner Matt Parkinson who, Livingstone disclosed, has been counting the days until Edgbaston’s annual jamboree came around.
“It won’t be a job to motivate Parky,” he said. “He loves the cameras, he loves the big stage, and to be fair to him he always performs when the pressure is on. You saw that in the quarter-final and even though he’s a young boy, he’s one to rely on with the ball. As we were walking out he said that he’d been sat at home for five days waiting for this, so he’s glad it’s finally arrived.”
It is, though, a big occasion for Livingstone as well. The last time he played at Finals Day most cricket fans outside Lancashire knew him as the bloke who had been attacked in an Ashford bar after his side had defeated Kent in the quarter-final.
Now he is an England international and one of the most exciting prospects in the game. He would not be a surprising pick for England’s winter tours. Yet if that is, indeed, how Livingstone’s 2018 ends, it will follow twelve months in which he has experienced many of the occupational hazards of a professional cricketer, including a broken thumb. On Finals Day he will lead out Lancashire in front of a crowd of 24,550, around 24,450 more than saw him return to cricket with Cheadle in the Cheshire County League two weeks ago.
“It’s been a funny season,” he acknowledged. “It started with a Lions tour then an injury, then another injury halfway through the season, which wasn’t ideal. The last time we were here was my first Finals Day and you don’t really realise what you’re taking part in, you just go with the flow. It was great that we won it and hopefully tomorrow we can win it again too.
“T20 cricket is a funny game. On paper we’ve got a very strong team but it means nothing when you get out there – one performance can win a game on either side. Luckily we have a fair few match winners. We also have a few fresh faces back in and I hope that can lift us.”