@Yas_Wisden 5 minute read
Since making a significant technical change in September 2019, Dan Lawrence’s red-ball form has been simply irresistible. Yas Rana profiles the young Essex batsman ahead of a potential England debut this summer.
“He’s one of the best batsmen I’ve ever seen. He’s not a stereotypical English player, he’s a freak.” Tom Westley wasn’t exactly exercising caution in his assessment of his Essex teammate Dan Lawrence in Wisden Cricket Monthly earlier this year. Given how much Lawrence has already achieved in the game, it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 22.
In 2015, at the age of 17, Lawrence compiled 161 in a County Championship game at The Oval. At 18, he was the third-highest run-scorer at the 2016 U19 World Cup. In 2017, Lawrence scored three hundreds at a tick under 45 as Essex won their first Championship title in a quarter of a century. Two years later, he played a central part in Essex becoming the first county side to win the Championship and T20 Blast in the same season.
This winter, Lawrence was England Lions’ star with the bat – and occasionally with the ball, too – as they recorded their maiden first-class victory over Australia A Down Under. Ten first-class hundreds before turning 23, having played half his cricket at bowler-friendly Chelmsford, it doesn’t require an abundance of imagination to guess what might come next.
That’s not to say that it’s always been plain sailing for Lawrence. From the beginning of 2018 to the start of Essex’s penultimate fixture of the 2019 season, Lawrence had scored just one century in 37 innings at an average of less than 30. It was at the end of that barren run he made a pivotal change. After another low score, this time against Warwickshire, Lawrence made the bold decision to discard his exaggerated trigger movement towards off that had served him so well in his career until then.
“I shortened down my pre-delivery movement and pretty much just simplified everything,” Lawrence tells wisden.com. “It’s helped me play the way I know I can. Now it feels second nature to me, I’m actually getting the scores on paper that I haven’t always been able to.
“There was a game last year at Edgbaston, a Championship game, where I still got 30-odd  but I just felt like a blind man batting. It just felt horrendous. I was getting balls that I’d usually hit for four if I was playing well. I looked at the video of my movement and it was so big, it was restricting me from playing being able to play any of the sort of shots I wanted to. So I thought to myself that it was time to make a big change, just for the last couple of games, just trying to stand dead still and see how that works.”
It’s worked rather well. Lawrence’s scores in red-ball games since that change read as follows: 147, a second-ball duck on a Taunton pitch for which Somerset were subsequently given a points deduction, 190, 125 and 52.
He’s got a wise head on his shoulders, too. Earlier this year, Lawrence had to decide whether to honour a contract with the Karachi Kings in the Pakistan Super League or opt out of it and tour with the England Lions in the hope of furthering his England Test credentials. For Lawrence, who has no plans of format specialisation just yet, it wasn’t a straightforward choice.
“It was a decision I thought quite long and hard about actually,” added Lawrence. “Because T20 cricket has also been a big part of my development as well and it’s something that I really want to…I don’t just want to be a red-ball specialist, I want to be a really good white-ball player as well. I want to be able to show everyone that I can do both. But the long and short of it was that when I had the opportunity to score runs for the Lions and potentially put my name in the hat for any sort of England selection.”
It’s a decision that’s paid off immensely, catapulting Lawrence to the front of the queue of talented young batsmen outside the England Test set-up. In an ordinary summer, Lawrence’s winter form would probably have placed him just behind the likes of Zak Crawley and Joe Denly – the men in possession – in the pecking order. But this, of course, is no ordinary summer.
If all domestic first-class cricket in England is called off, as remains likely, that will leave just one County Championship season between now and the 2021/22 Ashes series. The temptation to get him in the Test XI at some point this summer, to have a look at him and give him some match practice, could prove too strong to resist. Players outside the current team will have restricted opportunities to press their claims for selection and young players are at risk of losing out on a crucial year of their development as cricketers; Lawrence in particular is in danger of losing the powerful momentum he’d built up over the last nine months.
Lawrence will have one last chance in the middle to impress the England selectors before they whittle down the 30-man training group to a squad for the first Test. With Joe Root likely to miss at least one of the West Indies Tests to attend the birth of his second child, if Lawrence impresses in the upcoming intra-squad three-day game, he could yet force his way into the team by July 8. Given how the last nine months have gone, you wouldn’t bet against him.