Fit-again Livingstone rises above the doubters

350-run batsman: 'It was just my day' (1:42)

Nantwich CC and Lancashire CCC batsman tells the story of his outstanding innings in a club match in England. (1:42)

If Liam Livingstone learned one thing from his brief exposure to international cricket, it was to stay away from social media.

In a rather sad reflection of our times - or, perhaps, simply the climate of Twitter - Livingstone's first experience of England duty was to be told, as he puts it "that I was rubbish". And to be told it a lot.

"Social media was full of people being telling me how bad I was," he tells ESPNcricinfo now. "And if you keep reading how rubbish you are, it can start to make you think you're the worst cricketer in the world.

"I'm naturally a pretty confident guy and I've always backed my own ability. But I started off reading things and soon decided to ignore people who criticise you from their sofa and have probably never picked up a bat in their life."

It is true that Livingstone endured an underwhelming start. But it is also true that he was given a tough job. Picked for two T20Is against a South Africa side containing some fine and unusually quick bowlers, he came into bat in the 14th over of both games and, after 16 from 18 balls on debut in Taunton was bowled first ball in Cardiff as he attempted to scoop over fine leg. It looked ugly but, as he says, "if I'd put it away, everyone would have thought it was brilliant." T20 cricket doesn't leave much room for careful starts.

To complicate matters further, he was mid-way through tinkering with his technique. Experimenting with a trigger movement - a move that he subsequently shelved - he admits now that he wasn't in the ideal frame of mind for such a step up. "I didn't have much success behind me in the format," he says. "And I wasn't full of confidence."

Those who have only seen Livingstone on such occasions might be surprised by his elevation to the England Test squad. But not those who have watched his development for Lancashire rather more closely. After averaging 50.93 in his maiden season of first-class cricket (2016), he averaged 42.36 in 2017. He's only played 33 first-class games and he's only 24 but, of all the young batsmen vying for contention for England, it may well be that none has a higher ceiling - to use an in-vogue expression - than him.

In red-ball cricket, anyway. He was always a bit of an odd selection for the T20 side having recorded only two half-centuries from his 42 T20 matches with a best of 61, albeit he came armed with a seductive ability to bowl either off- or leg-spin as the occasion demands. "In the Caribbean we had a leggie and a left-arm spinner, so I bowled off-breaks," he says, "but in limited-overs cricket the plan is generally to bowl whatever turns the ball away from the batsmen as they prefer it coming into them". But he always had much more confidence - and much more interest - in the longest format.

"I have a much stronger red-ball game," he says now. "And, as a kid, I was always motivated by the thought of playing Test cricket. That's the pinnacle for me. And that's where I am more confident."

To that end, he made a conscious decision to concentrate on his Test ambitions this English winter. Despite an agent who had heard various encouraging responses to enquiries about stints in T20 leagues and despite the prevailing mood that seems to suggest most are pursuing a future in the shorter formats, Livingstone went his own way. It is, you suspect, something of a recurring characteristic.

"I sat down with the Lions coach, Andy Flower, and decided to prioritise my Test ambitions," he says. "Andy wanted me to go on the Lions tours to Australia and then the Caribbean and felt they would be of most benefit to my game.

"So I told my agent not to go any further with any T20 deals - I don't know how far progressed they were, but I know there was interest - and committed myself to improving my red-ball game. I suppose I've been rewarded with a place in the Test squad to New Zealand."

It has not gone entirely smoothly. As well as struggling against the turning ball in the Caribbean, he sustained an ankle injury - "I completely tore the ligament," he explains, "so it was very worrying at the time" - that briefly threatened his involvement in the New Zealand tour. Now recovered, he flies to New Zealand later in the week.

On the basis that Lions tours are more about learning than the results, Livingstone is encouraged by his experiences.

"It was a really tough challenge in the Caribbean," he says. "The wickets were what you might expect in the subcontinent and nothing like we face in county cricket.

"Of course we were disappointed by the results. Any time you wear the three lions on your chest, you want to win. But for me it was about working out a way to play in such conditions and learning from the experience.

"Talking to the local batsmen, they reckoned that anyone averaging 30 over there was doing well. That's how tough the pitches are.

"The other thing that stood out was the reaction of the local batsmen when the ball started turning. Instead of looking to dig in - which doesn't really work - they tried to take it on. It made them more aggressive. It was interesting to see. I feel I learned a lot.

"It's the same with my England experiences last summer," he says. "In a funny way, I'm actually a bit grateful it didn't go that well. Of course I'd have liked to score lots of runs but it was a great sharpener to realise how big the step-p in class is from county cricket to international cricket. It made me realise how hard I had to work. I'd like to think it left me in a much better position ahead of this tour."

How much opportunity he will have in New Zealand remains to be seen. By the time the Ashes ended, Trevor Bayliss was thinking that Ben Stokes might return at No. 5. While that scenario might well have been rethought subsequently, it would leave Livingstone - and James Vince - struggling to break into the line-up.

"I'm not thinking about things like that," Livingstone says. "I'm going with my eyes and ears wide open and hoping to learn from all the great players in that dressing room. Whatever happens, I'm looking to come back from the tour a better cricketer."