A magnificent fifth first-class century from Essex teenager Dan Lawrence helped to save Essex on the final day of their first game of the season against Lancashire at Chelmsford.
A mini-collapse either side of the new ball put Essex’s rescue operation in doubt, but Lawrence put on 102 runs in 37.4 overs with Ryan ten Doeschate for the sixth wicket to leave Lancashire four wickets short of a win.
The pitch may not have offered a lot of assistance to Lancashire’s seamers, but it was a superb performance from Lawrence against an attack that included one of the best seamers in English cricketing history. He batted throughout the day for a chanceless 141* – the closest Lancashire came to claiming his wicket was when a tight run was called late by Adam Wheater, but the throw failed to trouble the stumps leaving Lawrence free to save his side in impressive style.
Resuming on 89-2 with a mammoth target of 478 to win, a win was out of Essex’s reach especially after losing both of their experienced openers in the evening session on day three. A draw remained within their grasp, however, since Lancashire had dropped Tom Westley twice before he had reached 12.
Jimmy Anderson bowled unchanged for most of the first hour, giving away just nine runs in his eight overs. For all the economy of Anderson’s spell, when Ryan McLaren beat Dan Lawrence with his first ball of the day with a ball that moved away from England under-19 batsman, Anderson might have regretted not forcing the Essex pair to play the ball more often.
After the early morning conditions were negotiated successfully, Lawrence reached his half-century by tucking Stephen Parry into the leg side for a single. It typified the modest accumulation that Essex needed to secure the draw. By contrast, Tom Westley brought up his fifty by driving Jordan Clark past Parry in the extra cover region for four. Fittingly, that shot also saw the pair’s partnership pass 100 runs.
Anderson turned to Liam Livingstone’s leg spin before lunch, but both batsmen ended the morning session unbeaten on 55. After lunch, the pitch remained docile and the bowlers toiled for little reward for half an hour without a sign of a break for Lancashire.
Suddenly, though, a delivery from Stephen Parry came through surprisingly low for Westley. He was lucky to survive it. Perhaps this induced a lapse of concentration, a moment of doubt in Westley’s mind, for the next ball Parry clipped his off stump with a ball that turned away and beat Westley’s uncertain defensive shot. With the new ball almost due, Lancashire were back in business.
Anderson struck Lawrence on the chest in a hostile and pacey first over with the new ball and Lancashire seemed invigorated for the first time in the day. In the next over, Kyle Jarvis extracted enough movement off the pitch to induce a thin edge from Ravi Bopara, who was caught behind for just four. He added his second of the innings in his next over when Adam Wheater punched a booming outswinger low to Haseeb Hameed at cover to leave Lancashire needing only five more wickets to win. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, of course, but the ball presented no threat to his stumps and Essex had no need of quick runs.
Joined by his captain, the level-headed Ryan ten Doeschate, Lawrence reached his century in confident style, glancing James Anderson for a pair down the leg side. The pair worked well to blunt the increasingly frustrated Lancashire bowlers through to the final hour, when Kyle Jarvis trapped ten Doeschate lbw. Lancashire were unable to breach the defences of new Kolpak signing Simon Harmer, who accompanied Lawrence through to the close with 12 off 36.
Lawrence is still proving himself as a batsman of considerable promise. Unlike his esteemed opponent Hameed, Lawrence is still 19 until July, and has one more first-class century, from fewer matches, at a better average. While he has been plying his trade in division two, he countered Anderson bravely and effectively in this innings and he made a useful 37 out of Essex’s first-innings 159.
If he can rescue Essex from relegation this season with big runs against more Division One attacks, he will have a highly impressive CV to submit to the England selectors should a space become available in the admittedly crowded field of young Test hopefuls.