It was a subtle shifting of the shadows. As Eoin Morgan sat out optional nets at the leafy Amstelveen ground, his likely successor in the England middle-order, Liam Livingstone, bounded out of practice for the third and final one-day international on Wednesday.
Morgan, who is carrying various injuries to his upper right leg, said before this series against the Netherlands that he would take the summer slowly to ensure his battered body makes it through to the T20 World Cup in Australia in October and November and, far less likely, the 50‑over World Cup a year later.
His two visits to the crease in Amsterdam have made anxious watching, however, with a first‑ball nought and then a seven-ball anguish of an innings: frustrated shots before toe-ending a catch to the waiting fielder at point. In his past 50 innings in all formats, international and domestic, he has made one half-century.
Livingstone, on the other hand, is hitting a ball as if he is playing swingball in the garden. Fresh from the Indian Premier League, where he tonked the biggest six of the tournament and had a successful campaign with Punjab Kings, he biffed a 17-ball 50 on Friday, the fastest by an Englishman – and a record held previously by Morgan.
The success was welcome – “it was nice to finally get the monkey off my back about not being able to do it in the IPL” – and feeds into everything, including his astonishing ability to hit the ball out of the ground immediately after arriving at the crease. But it has taken work.
“It’s something that’s probably got me into this team,” he said, with England going into the match on Wednesday with the series in the bag after two victories.
“It wasn’t something I did a lot at the start of my career, so the most pleasing thing for me is to be able to have adapted to certain situations into a role I wasn’t too familiar with.
“I did it throughout the whole of the IPL and done it more and more in the England team. It’s something I’ve really enjoyed, it’s a different challenge and hopefully I can keep improving.
“A lot of it comes from practice, making sure you’re practising what you do out in the middle. One of the biggest things we’ve got from this group is the trust that some days it’s not going to work out and that’s absolutely fine. They give you the ability to go out and play with freedom and play your own way, that’s the exciting part of this environment we have.”
Being given the freedom to stroll out to the middle and try to biff the ball out of the park is a schoolkid’s dream. For Livingstone, it is an extension of how he used to play. “I certainly tried to as a little boy. I think my little‑boy stage lasted a little bit longer than it should. Many people got very frustrated with me growing up as a kid. Even for the first couple of years of professional cricket, so it is nice to be finally sort of maturing a little bit.
“I’ve got a natural swing, which is something I’ve been blessed with. It is the years of travelling around the world trying to improve my game and working with different people. Look at this environment – you can sit and watch Jos [Buttler] and the way he goes about playing, batting in the nets …”
Told that after the extravaganza on Friday Buttler said Livingstone hit the ball further, he laughed. “He wouldn’t be this modest one-on-one with me, trust me. It’s quite good fun, we play golf together and it is basically just a long-drive competition.
“During the IPL I wouldn’t watch too much cricket but when Jos was batting I’d switch on the TV. That’s what we want to do, be entertaining for people.”
Entertainment flows in Livingstone’s blood, something helped by his ability to trundle up to the crease and reel off leg-spin and off-spin on demand. “I’m pretty comfortable with chopping and changing mid‑over,” he said. “I’m used to it because I have done so much of it in T20 cricket. It came from messing around in the nets.”
It was time well spent. How easy it sounds when you’re in the zone.
Netherlands (possible): Vikramjit Singh, Max O’Dowd, Tom Cooper, Bas de Leede, Scott Edwards (capt/wkt), Teja Nidamanuru, Logan van Beek, Tim Pringle, Shane Snater/Aryan Dutt, Paul van Meekeren, Fred Klaassen.
England (possible): Jason Roy, Phil Salt, Dawid Malan, Jos Buttler (wk), Eoin Morgan (capt), Liam Livingstone, Moeen Ali, David Willey, Brydon Carse/Sam Curran, Adil Rashid, Luke Wood.