It is easy at times when observing a talented youngster produce a moment of sporting excellence to get ahead of ones self and proclaim them as the next great wonder. Such misgivings could explain the notoriety that Essex’s Dan Lawrence, at 17 years and 290 days, will receive over the coming days for his sublime innings that saw him become the third youngest Championship centurion.
Nonetheless, while his two-match fledgling career is almost impossible to judge future prospects by, this performance of maturity and substance was outstanding. Mixing defensive stubbornness with a flair for boundaries, Lawrence faced 206 balls, over the course of four-and-a-half hours, on his way to 161.
This is the fifth season Essex enter as Division Two members, having failed to achieve promotion since their 2010 relegation. Since then, they’ve come close to a return on two occasions, even finishing 2014 with the highest-ever points tally of a team not to go up.
In the process, the side has haemorrhaged promising young talent like Varun Chopra, Chris Wright, Ben Foakes and Tymal Mills to other clubs. If they are to fulfill their hopes of escaping the second tier, they will need to retain the current emerging crop of Nick Browne, Jamie Porter and Lawrence.
“The feeling when I got my hundred was amazing,” Lawrence said. “I was in my own bubble and so concentrated that when I got it the celebration wasn’t massive. All the lads were happy for me.
“I’ve spoken to some of my mates already and they did say, “how I’m at school and you’re at The Oval scoring runs,” so I was loving it.
“It was always an easy decision for me to leave [school] as I’ve always wanted to play cricket. The one year at sixth form I wasn’t massively into purely because I wanted to play cricket really.”
Those close to the club have been endorsing Lawrence for some time now. During the winter he travelled to Geelong, Australia, to play for Newtown and Chilwell Cricket Club on the Insole/Gooch scholarship. The scheme, funded by Graham Gooch and set up by former England international Doug Insole, was created after the latter witnessed England’s 2006 humbling down under and bemoaned the lack of fortitude shown by the players. A period in Australia was to be the cure and so the agreement came about.
Lawrence got off to a sluggish start, however soon impressed. Finishing the season as the club’s top-scorer with 556 runs, including an incredible 191-run input in his team’s 278/7 declared total against South Barwon, and picked up the player of the season award. That form continued into Essex’s pre-season, where Surrey were given a glimpse of what was to come when he struck an unbeaten 56 featuring nine boundaries and a six in a chilly Chelmsford encounter.
In his first-class debut last week, Kent gave Lawrence a tough baptism to county cricket, falling early on in the second morning to the guile of Darren Stevens, having patiently seen out the previous evening’s troublesome closing overs. There would be no repeat at the Oval. Sitting on 48 overnight, he picked up two singles off the first two deliveries of the day to complete his maiden half-century.
Tall for his age, Lawrence taps his bat down gently thrice before crouching forward, waiting for the opportune moment to play his stroke. A quick mover, Zafar Ansari could only look on as Lawrence shimmied towards him and flung the ball back over his head for six.
By the time Essex moved into a 100 run lead, nightwatchman Jamie Porter and captain James Foster had departed to Ansari and Tom Curran respectively. The second new ball made little difference too, as Lawrence and Jesse Ryder shifted gear putting on 121 in 21.2 overs. They both reached milestones on the way, Lawrence his first hundred to beat Chopra’s previous record for youngest Essex centurion and Ryder a well-paced 50.
So desperate were Surrey for bowlers – Jade Dernbach absent getting a scan on his side and an unbeknown limited Gareth Batty – that Kevin Pietersen came on to loosen his arm. It made little difference other than an extra eight runs. Ansari – newly called up to the England One-Day squad – returned and had Ryder lbw, Lawrence following shortly after.
Kishen Velani didn’t last much longer before a new eighth wicket record partnership of 116 runs for Essex against Surrey between Graham Napier (73) and Greg Smith (50*) took the visitors to a 270 run lead. Only five balls into the reply and Surrey’s fortune worsened still, Ansari getting run out in an awful mess between the opening batsmen.
However, even the late departure of Kumar Sangakkara for 43, edging Napier to Browne at first slip, might not be enough to force a result tomorrow, with bad weather expected to truncate play.