Livingstone's unbeaten 94 steers Lightning to opening day Vitality Blast victory
A superb unbeaten 94 by Liam Livingstone gave Lancashire just the start they wanted with a six-wicket victory in this opening match of the Vitality Blast against Derbyshire Falcons at Emirates Old Trafford.
Livingstone batted through the innings for the first time to post his second-highest innings for the Lightning with his responsible and well-crafted innings seeing Lancashire to their 169-run target with three balls to spare when he drove his tenth four to seal victory.
“It was a good day and although we made a few mistakes, it’s nice when you can still win and not play at your very best,” said Livingstone.
“It’s nice to have helped get us off to a winning start and make a good contribution.”
Three fifty partnerships combined to steer the Lightning to their 169-run target after Derbyshire had posted a competitive looking total after winning the toss and opting to bat on a slightly slow pitch that produced some grip, especially for the slower bowlers.
Livingstone and new overseas signing Finn Allen set the Lightning on their way with an explosive opening partnership of 53 off 27 balls.
After Livingstone drove two fours off the opening over delivered by Mikey Cohen, Allen smashed his fifth ball in a Lightning shirt for six over long-on off spinner Alex Thomson. It was some statement of intent.
“I think Finn is going to be pretty exciting to open the batting with. I might just get one and watch him go from the other end,” smiled Livingstone.
“He’s the new kid on the block which is great for us. He’s been brilliant in the group and we saw today the talent and striking ability he’s got. When you can hit it anywhere with only two men out, he’s going to be a real asset to us up at the top.”
Livingstone next flat batted a six off the front foot over long-on off Logan van Beek in the 3rd over while Allen took three boundaries off the following over from Matt Critchley as the pair threatened to run riot against the Falcons attack.
Two wickets in three balls from Fynn Hudson-Prentice brought the visitors some relief.
Having reached 29 off just 12 balls Allen edged a pull behind to wicketkeeper Brooke Guest while Alex Davies departed for second ball duck after pulling to Thomson at deep square leg.
That brought Jos Buttler to the crease for his first innings in three years for the Lightning and the England star did not disappoint, hitting two of his first three balls for four and combining well with Livingstone in a partnership of 56 from 8 overs.
“Domestic cricket is very different to international cricket and to have Jos in that middle order makes a massive difference to our side,” added Livingstone.
“In my eyes he’s the best white ball player in the world at the moment and for him to bring that experience in for the first six games we’ve got him is great.
“It brings so much confidence into our group. He’s great off the pitch with the way he speaks and fills the lads with confidence. He’s so calm under pressure as well. Towards the end (of each innings) he passes that calmness on to the bowlers as well as the batters.”
Buttler had made a measured 30 off 28 balls when he top-edged a reverse sweep to Hudson-Prentice off Luis Reece at the end of the 13th over with Lancashire 109-3 needing 60 off 42 balls.
And the Falcons fluffed a great opportunity to get back into a game that was going away from them in the 15th over when Livingstone on 55 hit Reece high to long-on but was dropped when Leus du Plooy and sub fielder Mattie McKiernan ran into each other at wide long-on as both attempted to take the catch.
With 26 runs needed off 3 overs Livingstone settled any nerves with his second six over long-on off Thomson and followed that with a superb back foot drive for four when the spinner dropped short.
Another driven four by Livingstone off Reece at the start of the 19th over brought up the fifty partnership off 31 balls with Dane Vilas before the Lightning skipper fell for 10 with just six runs required, driving Reece to Hughes at mid-off.
Appropriately it fell to Livingstone to drive the winning runs to finish unbeaten on 94 from 58 balls including 10 fours and 2 sixes.
The Lightning batsman added; “It’s something I’ve been working really hard on. Getting in and then seeing the team home. It’s not something I’ve done too well throughout my career.
“So who knows, maybe at twenty-seven I’m starting to mature a bit!” he laughed.
“But it was great to get us off to a good start, then rein it back in a bit and then see us home at the end. It was a nice way for me to start the T20 campaign. I’ve not had the best couple of weeks, so it was nice to have a bit of a fresh start today.
“I’ve been working hard with Benky (Dale Benkenstein) and with Chilly (Mark Chilton) and I feel like I’ve been playing really well but haven’t had any runs.
“And I guess it doesn’t matter how well you are playing if you’re not scoring runs. You’re not doing your job. I want to make sure I’m contributing to the team and making sure I’m winning games for Lancashire like I’ve done for the last couple of years. “
At the start of the game Lancashire enjoyed immediate success when Livingstone bowled Billy Godleman for a duck from the fifth ball of the innings after the Falcons had won the toss and opted to bat.
Wayne Madsen and Reece motored on, Reece hitting out effectively when taking 20 off the fourth over from Richard Gleeson although he enjoyed some moments of fortune when two hits into the deep just evaded the fielder at deep backward square.
However misfortune befell Madsen after he had made 12 when the Falcons batsman injured himself when diving in at the bowlers end to complete a quick single, and he limped off with a suspected hamstring problem to be replaced by du Plooy with Derbyshire 48-1 in the fifth over.
Reece continued to take on the Lighting attack but was dropped on 35 at long-on off Livingstone and having enjoyed a reprieved, reverse swept Tom Hartley for 6 before reaching his fifty with a further maximum off Matt Parkinson as Derbyshire reached the halfway stage on 84-1.
But Reece then fell lbw for 59 reverse sweeping at a well-pitched up Danny Lamb delivery at the start of the 11th over and Critchley was caught by Hartley off Parkinson for 2 from a top-edged sweep at the start of the 12th to leave the visitors on 91-3.
Du Plooy drove Livingstone for six over long on in the 13th over to dent an otherwise excellent four over spell of 1-22 and Lamb also impressed with 1-17 off his four overs as Lancashire fought back to slow the visitors scoring during the middle of the innings.
The Falcons rallied to good effect taking 57 from the final six overs.
Du Plooy and Alex Hughes had enjoyed a profitable partnership of 52 off 37 balls before both fell in quick succession to Parkinson (3-28) looking to force the scoring; du Plooy finding Davies in the deep having made 34 and Hughes followed from the next ball, hitting to Allen at deep midwicket for 28 with the Falcons 143-5 in the 18th over.
Guest hit a six off Luke Wood in an eventful final over that yielded 13 runs and two further wickets; Hudson-Prentice slicing a catch to Gleeson for 12 and Thompson run out off the final delivery with the Falcons finishing 168-7.
It proved to be a competitive total that challenged Lancashire all the way.
The Lightning will be looking to make it two wins from two when they play Leicestershire Foxes at Emirates Old Trafford tomorrow evening.
“We’ve got a good record here,” said Livingstone. "It’s become a bit of a fortress for us. Leics have got a pretty good team and it will be a good test for us and hopefully we can back this (win) up.
“It’s good to start the campaign with a win and hopefully we can kick on tomorrow.”
Photos: Barry Mitchell & Luke Adams