Livingstone launches into another delivery
Liam Livingstone’s six-hitting exploits against Pakistan at Headingley left fans and commentators alike in awe.
Fresh from his dazzling 42-ball century on Friday, the Lancashire batsman was at it again on Sunday, striking the ball with awesome power. His first straight six out of the ground was impressive enough but the second, off the pace of Haris Rauf, flew over the new stand and onto the rugby ground.
Such monstrous shows of power are nothing new in the game but not everyone is capable of launching the ball such distances. Telegraph Sport takes a look at the key components that go into hitting the biggest sixes.
A year before the 1999 World Cup, South African allrounder Lance Klusener injured his ankle. Unable to bowl, Klusener decided to experiment: he would set the bowling machine to bowl in ‘the slot’ – either low full tosses or half-volleys – and face ‘500, 600 balls a day’. What began as a reaction to injury led to Klusener being the first cricketer to apply forensic, methodical training to hitting sixes, practising clearing the ropes with an unprecedented intensity. When his methods helped him be player of the tournament at the 1999 World Cup, Klusener had shown a harbinger of what was possible. His lessons would be embraced, and refined, in the years to come.
During his stints with the England Lions, Liam Livingstone has worked with Julian Wood. Wood’s job description – power-hitting coach – is a testament to how more rigour is being paid to how to hit sixes than ever before. The rise of Twenty20, which is now increasingly viewed as a separate sport, rather than merely an abridged version of the longer formats, is at the heart of this story.
In golf, Bryson DeChambeau is renowned for hitting the ball further than anyone else. Wood has studied his training methods, and adapted them to cricket. In parts of his practice, DeChambeau focuses on simply hitting the ball as far as he can, regardless of where it goes. Wood’s sessions do the same. In a typical training session, Wood says, batsmen spend 20 per cent of the time hitting the ball as hard as possible. “They will swing absolutely as hard as they can. I almost want it to go too far, then you can drag it back – that’s how you see improvement.” In his quest to unearth extra power and perfect a batsman’s swing, the techniques that Wood deploys include using heavier bats and lighter balls.
Biggest six ever?! 😱 @LeedsRhinos, can we have our ball back? 😉
🏴 #ENGvPAK 🇵🇰 pic.twitter.com/bGnjL8DxCx
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) July 18, 2021
Where once cricketers’s physiques were routinely mocked by fans of other sports, many of today’s cricketers are built like middleweight boxers. Their diets, strength and conditioning work and lifestyles are designed around being able to hit a cricket ball as far as possible as consistently as possible.
Here, the inspirations are the West Indies. With a style that prioritised the six above all else – focusing on maximising boundaries, not minimising dot-balls – the West Indies won two of the past three T20 World Cups.
Livingstone’s style embraces the demands of modern T20. Across his innings on Friday and Sunday, he plundered 12 maximums in 66 balls. After launching his 122-metre straight six off Haris Rauf on Sunday, Livingstone told teammates that it was only the third biggest six that he had hit.
The training session
Before England’s T20 series with Pakistan, Livingstone had a training session with Paul Collingwood and Marcus Trescothick. They worked on how Livingstone could bring his right hip through the ball as he hit it, to give more power to his strokes and enable him to hit naturally without striving to overhit deliveries.
“In the past he’s always been a little bit frustrated that his back hip collapses, which can then make him hit the ball a lot higher than he was hoping for,” Collingwood explained after Livingstone’s century on Friday. “T20 batting can be like a golf swing, and [is about] just making sure when the beans are going and the adrenaline is going that you keep the base nice and solid so you can get consistency in the strike.”
As he prepared to strike the ball from Rauf, Livingstone had his back leg bent, helping him to load weight onto his back leg – like someone doing a tennis serve – before transferring the weight onto his front leg.
“If you look at the rhythm and timing of his movements as the ball is about to be released, he goes back foot, then front foot,” Wood explains. “The angle of his front foot isn’t straight down the wicket, his angle is probably just heading towards mid off. That is crucial because if that front foot is open too much and the angle is open too much, your back hip will come open too early.”
One feature of Livingstone’s technique is his grip. It is “a very open bottom hand grip,” Wood says. The combination of the open grip and slightly open stance means that Livingstone’s right elbow slots into his side as he hits the ball, allowing him to use his back hip to drive through the ball and generate extra power.
It is a set-up that means Livingstone doesn’t need to try and hit the ball with every iota of his power. “When he plays at his best he swings at 80 per cent – he doesn’t try to hit everything 100 miles an hour, you don’t have to,” Wood observes. “It’s the rhythm and timing of the movements that gets you to the right place at the right time.”
Livingstone admires his work
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
The final flourish
As Livingstone struck Rauf onto the rugby league pitch behind Headingley, his right leg pushed forward, following the direction of his blow.
“You see a lot of that in baseball – that’s just the power that he’s generating,” Wood says. “He’s allowed himself to hit against that front side, and the power has to go somewhere.”
Such a final flourish has long been a common sight in baseball. Now, it is a symbol of cricket’s age of the six.