Essex batsman Dan Lawrence boosts England claims by starring in Australia - The Next Big Thing
By David Ruse
Last Updated: 24/05/20 3:28pm
Who are cricket's emerging players? Each week, we will focus on 'the next big thing' in the sport and this week it's Essex's England hopeful Dan Lawrence...
With the success and failure of English cricket often calculated by results in Ashes series, a man who has flourished in Australia is going to be on England's radar.
And Dan Lawrence - tipped to be named in an enlarged England training squad ahead of the hoped Test series against West Indies and Pakistan behind closed doors - certainly has that on his CV.
The Essex batsman was in stellar form for England Lions on their winter tour Down Under, starring across the red and white-ball formats as his side went unbeaten in six completed games.
The highlight - but not his top score - was surely his 125 in the victory over Australia A in an unofficial Test at the MCG as the Lions beat their opponents for the first time in history.
Lawrence's Melbourne century was sandwiched by 190 against a Cricket Australia XI in Hobart and 52 against a New South Wales XI in Wollongong, while his contributions with the bat in the three white-ball fixtures meant he ended the tour with a combined average of 98.60.
Not bad figures with an away Ashes series on the horizon in the winter of 2021-22.
The right-hander rose to prominence in 2015 when, in just his second first-class appearance, he scored 161 batting at No 3 against Surrey to become the third-youngest batsman to score a County Championship hundred, doing so at the tender age of 17 years and 290 days.
Lawrence is now embedded in the Essex side, scoring over 900 runs in 2016 to help the Chelmsford side achieve promotion back to the top flight and then over 750 the following year as the county won the Division One title without losing a game - a gritty 141 that earned a draw against a Lancashire attack including James Anderson displaying his strong temperament.
The Leytonstone-born player endured a lean 2018 but rediscovered his form to a decent extent last summer - in part, he says, to "sacking off" his trigger movement and standing stiller at the crease - with 725 runs at 38.15 as Essex regained the title they had shipped to Surrey a season before.
At the age of just 22, Lawrence has reeled off 70 first-class matches, 10 tons and 17 half-centuries, and averages a lick under 39, though it is his form in Australia that has added real weight to the belief he could make a Test bow this summer and add more depth to England's middle order.
Sky Sports Cricket expert David Lloyd believes Lawrence has razzmatazz, while Bumble's colleague Nasser Hussain believes the youngster's leg-side preference and closed bat face should prove no impediment to success.
ECB performance director Mo Bobat, meanwhile, recently said of Lawrence: "He's been a player of potential in our minds for some time.
"Both myself and [England national selector] Ed Smith spoke to him about the fact there were a lot of people that rate the quality of his cricket. I think that we wanted to see him score the volume of runs that, for want of a better phrase, his talent deserved.
"To be fair to him, he's gone out and done exactly that [in Australia]. He couldn't have done much more in terms of volume of runs. I congratulated him on that and said his challenge was doing exactly that this summer. If he does that, he's not going to be far off."
Lawrence has been unable to do that through no fault of his own, with the coronavirus pandemic ensuring that the 2020 season is yet to start. Still, if the Essex star is included in England's training pool, he can use the opportunity to push for Test honours.
The one stumbling block for him may be that the spots where he scored his runs for Essex last season (No 4) and for the Lions in Australia (No 5) are currently occupied by England skipper Joe Root and vice-captain and talisman Ben Stokes.
It may be that he has to wait in the wings until Ollie Pope makes a widely expected jump to No 3, although his debut ton against Surrey came at first drop so the position is not exactly alien to him.
Plus, if England rotate players due to the likelihood of many games in a short time frame, a spot could open up for Lawrence and it wouldn't necessarily have to be in Test whites.
The batsman struck 386 runs, including four fifties, at a strike-rate over 150 to help Essex to the Vitality Blast title in 2019.
"I took T20 particularly seriously last summer," Lawrence said recently. "It's something I really wanted to improve on.
"Obviously playing Test cricket is the ultimate for me, but it's nice to know that if things don't necessarily go that well in that department then I can fall back on hopefully playing T20 cricket, which is also a very good way of living.
"Obviously you have to use your brain sometimes and build innings in T20, but I decided to err on the side of being ultra-aggressive last year, and with a much clearer mind, I scored a lot more runs and had a lot more match-winning performances."
Lawrence has the added bonus of being able to get through some overs of off-spin. His tweak was used sparingly by Essex last term but the Lions made good use of it - Lawrence bagging 4-28 in a one-day game against a Cricket Australia XI.
He also claimed five wickets across the three red-ball games in Australia and with England's winter - coronavirus situation-permitting - looking likely to include two Tests in Sri Lanka and five in India, that could also tempt the selectors into taking him to the subcontinent.
England head coach Chris Silverwood knows Lawrence well having previously coached him at Essex and the latter is looking forward to a potential reunion at international level.
"I've got a good relationship with [Silverwood] and he knows how I tick," Lawrence told the Daily Mail. "He's a really good man and a good coach and I'm not surprised he is where he is now. If I ever get the chance to play under him again it would be brilliant.
"The dream, the aspiration, is to play for England and if I do get a go in the next couple of years, hopefully I can replicate what I did this winter.
"I've quite enjoyed the pressure that came with starting my career well because I knew straight away I could do it and the expectations have been quite nice.
"I feel like one of the senior players at Chelmsford now and I want to take responsibility and be like, 'I'm the man here, I'm going to take every situation down and be the No 1 guy'. I enjoy that."
Soon, he could be one of England's No 1 guys too.