England hope Livingstone can roll out the big hits on Headingley return

Why England need a series win against Pakistan (1:26)

Matt Roller explains the importance of England heading into the T20 World Cup on the back of a series win over Pakistan (1:26)

Three years have passed since Liam Livingstone's magical summer, when everything he touched turned to gold. His international breakthrough came in Nottingham, when he announced himself to the world with a 42-ball century, but it was in Leeds that he proved that was no fluke.

Headingley's Football Stand instantly evokes a straight six that Livingstone hit off Haris Rauf in England's T20I series against Pakistan in 2021. It cleared the stand, landing somewhere on the Leeds Rhinos rugby league pitch behind, and seemed almost like showboating: the straight boundary is only around 65 metres, but one measurement put Livingstone's hit at 120m.

Livingstone turned 28 that summer and was the face of England's new generation as they refreshed their white-ball teams after the 2019 World Cup, a three-dimensional player with an irresistible self-confidence. He was the MVP of the first season of the men's Hundred, surged into the T20 World Cup squad and sold for INR 11.5 crore - over £1 million - at the IPL auction.

But as England prepare for another T20I series against Pakistan - their first on home soil since Livingstone's annus mirabilis - Livingstone faces a defining summer. He has achieved plenty in his career - he is a T20 World Cup winner and has played for England in all three formats - but there is a sense that he has not quite kicked on as hoped.

Towards the end of the 2022 summer, he suffered a freak injury when he slipped on the kerb of a pavement and damaged his ankle ligaments, and things have never quite been the same for him since. He rushed back to play a walk-on role in England's T20 World Cup win in Australia, then sustained a knee injury on Test debut in Pakistan a few weeks later.

Livingstone has suffered various different muscle injuries since, returning early from India last week to get his knee "sorted" before the T20 World Cup after a strain ruled him out for two matches earlier in the IPL. He made no impact at the 50-over World Cup last year - 60 runs in six innings - and this year, across 18 innings for three different T20 franchises, he has averaged 15.75 with a strike rate of 126.00.

He has spent much of his winter sharing a dressing room with Sam Curran, his England, MI Cape Town and Punjab Kings team-mate. "It's an interesting one: we're playing so much cricket," Curran said of Livingstone's form. "Livi's such an X-factor player. He brings so much to all his teams. He's that three-dimensional cricketer that the side has and everyone has seen what he's done with England in previous years… I'm backing him to come good."

Curran is certainly right that Livingstone is in high demand: in February, he signed a two-match contract with Sharjah Warriors after MI Cape Town were eliminated from the SA20, then flew back to South Africa to go on safari.

But his downturn in form has coincided with an unbalanced diet of cricket: he has played 13 List A games and 56 T20s but not a single red-ball match. Livingstone has often slid down the order, once all the way to No. 8 for Lancashire: across formats, he has only faced an average of 16.4 balls per match since the start of last year, hardly long enough to find any rhythm or form.

Perhaps that should not matter in the modern era: players like Kieron Pollard and Tim David have made careers as T20 finishers while rarely facing more than 20 balls in an innings. But Livingstone has spent much of his career playing across formats and does not yet seem to have benefitted from greater specialisation.

At least part of the reason is that he has struggled against slow bowling: since the start of last year, he has averaged 28.32 with a strike rate of 172.01 against seamers in all T20 cricket, compared to an average of 17.82 and a strike rate of 90.71 against spinners. It may be self-fulfilling: has he done poorly against spin because he has moved down the order, or has he moved down the order because he has done poorly against spin?

Regardless, England have made clear that they value Livingstone's versatility, and his ability to balance their side as a spin option while batting at No. 6. He had a long net session on Monday in Leeds, doing some technical work alongside Richard Dawson, who deputised as head coach with Matthew Mott absent for family reasons, and is expected to be fit enough to play the first T20I.

"He's hugely excited," Curran said. "When we arrived this morning, the buzz around the group, it seems like we're back to our energy and it seems like the boys are really fizzed about this trophy hopefully coming back." On Wednesday night, England will be desperate for Livingstone to roll the clock back to 2021.