England hopeful Liam Livingstone greeted assertions that Lancashire are being written off ahead of the new season, with the kind of disdain with which he might dispatch a rank long-hop to the mid-wicket fence.
“We don’t really care what people say,” Livingstone said at the club’s media day.
And it’s an attitude that seems to underline Lancashire’s approach and mentality ahead of the campaign. Yes, there’s an acknowledgement that 2017 will be tough, as it always is, and an acceptance that in the minds of many observers the Red Rose will be battling against Championship relegation.
But there’s also an inner belief that is palpable around the club, a determination to prove those observers wrong, and to trust the talent and the commitment of the players at Old Trafford to meet every challenge this season.
“It was the same last year, people can write us off, whatever they want to do,” Livingstone said.
“We don’t really care. We know we’ve got the quality in our squad to not only do well this year, but to be pushing at the top. So I think the talent we’ve got in our squad, with the experience mixed with the youngsters, I think it’s very exciting times for us as a squad.”
Much of Lancashire’s confidence comes from unwavering belief in the batch of young, homegrown talent that is blossoming at the club.
Livingstone is one of those, after enjoying a remarkable rise to prominence over the last 12 months. This time last year, Livingstone was at media day as a mere face in the squad, yet to make his first class debut.
A year on, after a starring role for Lancashire last season and a spectacularly successful winter with the England Lions, Livingstone was one of the star names in the Old Trafford pavilion and a man who now carries a weight of expectation from Red Rose supporters.
In fact, nobody has enjoyed a better spell with the Lions since Kevin Pietersen’s introduction to the England setup – with Livingstone matching his achievement of two Lions centuries while on tour in Sri Lanka, raising the possibility of full England honours soon.
“I’d probably take half of Kevin’s career to be fair,” Livingstone quipped.
“It was a great winter for me. To even play was a bit of a bonus and luckily things went really well for me. It’s given me a lot of confidence going into the new season.
“I’ve read little bits here and there and it’s great to have positive things being said about you. But I’m not reading too much into it. It’s all about Lancashire at the moment.
“I haven’t given the Champions Trophy much thought. You never know what can happen.
“Cricket is a very funny sport, considering this time last year I hadn’t played a first class game. That shows how quickly things can move, but there’s three massive games of first class cricket I’m focusing on. My sole focus is on Lancashire at the start of the season and whatever happens after that happens.”
Livingstone was a key man with the bat for Lancashire, on their return to Division One last season, and will need to be so again if they are to succeed this year. Last campaign he averaged 54.52 while striking four centuries, but with the likely England involvement of Haseeb Hameed and the departure of Alviro Petersen – the top two runs scorers in 2016 – pressure will be on Livingstone to star again.
The 23-year-old is a natural, clean ball-striker and is a player capable of being a crucial component in all forms of the game. He is also handy with a bit of part-time spin and believes his time away with the England Lions has given him more confidence is his all-round game.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a certain thing I improved on but I have more confidence, particularly in my game plan against spin,” he said.
“You get more confident in what you have. You’re always going to improve the way you play spin in the sub-continent.
“I think me as a player, everything I’ve done is self taught really. Any time I’ve tried to be coached hasn’t been great for me.
“That’s why me and Mark Chilton have got a great relationship here because he knows as soon as he starts getting technical with me, I start to struggle. I think me being a natural player makes it easier to play the way I play.
“I broke both my wrists when I was 16 so I couldn’t bowl leg spin. Two or three years ago I went back to bowling leg spin. I’m a batter but if you can get two or three overs out of me in 50 over or T20 cricket it makes you more selectable.
“As long as I’m helping the team win games of cricket I’ll do whatever I can.”