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Lawrence turns spin discussion on its head as Surrey take a grip

Lancashire will look to Hartley and Lyon after succumbing to visitors' spin pairing

Dan Lawrence was set to make his Championship debut for Surrey, Lancashire vs Surrey, County Championship, Division One, Old Trafford, April 5, 2024

Dan Lawrence had an unexpected impact with the ball on his Championship debut for Surrey  •  Getty Images

Surrey 11 for 0 trail Lancashire 202 (Bohannon 84, Steel 5-25, Lawrence 4-91) by 191 runs
The emergence of Tom Hartley on the Test tour of India months after the acquisition of Nathan Lyon gave us a new slant on a timeless conversation about the domestic game's duty to English spin. As everyone had their go - while Hartley and Lyon maintained sensibility - all eyes were fixed on Lancashire's teamsheet for the 2024 county season. Fingers on triggers, hot takes in the chamber.
Just over 26 hours later than anticipated, an XI landed with Hartley and Lyon alongside one another, as head coach Dale Benkenstein had indicated on Tuesday, particularly with the Kookaburra ball in use. They ended the first day of County Championship cricket at Emirates Old Trafford bowling in tandem. See? Nothing to worry about.
Unless, at this juncture, you are a Lancashire fan. That spell "in tandem" was merely an over each to close out a day's play that began at 1.10 pm. Surrey had already dismissed Lancashire for 202, with skipper Rory Burns and Dom Sibley seeing out five overs to go in at 11 for no loss. Despite rain scuppering the opening day and first session of day two, the two-time defending champions have wrestled time back. And the irony of ironies was they did so with their own pair of complementary twirlers.
Cameron Steel bagged a maiden five-wicket haul of 5 for 25, blazing through Lancashire's lower order like legspinners are supposed to, but few would expect of him. Dan Lawrence's offspin exposed the tail, marking his Surrey debut with career-best figures of 4 for 91 from 28 overs delivered at the James Anderson End. The unlikely duo was responsible for the cascade that saw the hosts' last seven wickets fall for just 42, vindicating Burns' decision to bowl first.
Lawrence triggered that collapse with the vital wicket of Josh Bohannon, surprising the 2023 Division One top-scorer with a bit more turn and bounce than anticipated. The fend to short leg, as straightforward as it was, required two grasps from Jamie Smith under the helmet. Bohannon's slow departure was of a man dismayed about falling 16 short of a 12th first-class century and irked at succumbing to a bowler who he had struck down the ground with ease for his two sixes.
That irritation was compounded when Matthew Hurst was lbw without playing a shot off the next delivery, underestimating the turn to make it 150 for 6. Hartley had to face Lawrence's hat-trick ball - which he defended soundly - and it was hard not to consider the peculiarity of their respective England careers as they faced off in that moment. They are both, in their own ways, embarking on similar journeys.
You could argue Lawrence's quest in India to add to the 11 caps amassed over the last three years was the collateral for Hartley's performances. Once the left-arm spinner had shown enough aptitude with the bat while picking up 22 wickets, what compulsion Ben Stokes' had to pick Lawrence, who has three Test dismissals, dulled.
Surrey head coach Gareth Batty made a point of talking up Lawrence's all-round skills, partly out of necessity with Will Jacks at the IPL. Lawrence's introduction in the 10th over showed that was not an empty sentiment.
With his 10th delivery, he had a maiden dismissal for the club since moving from Essex; a smart return catch diving to his left to remove Keaton Jennings, which got Surrey up and running. He was in the scorecard once more when Luke Wells flicked Tom Lawes lazily out to deep square leg. But it was only when Steel spun a beauty through the bat and pad of left-hander George Balderson from over the wicket that, at 150 for 3 in the 55th over, Surrey really turned the screw.
A sharp delivery taking the inside edge of Kiwi Tom Bruce's bat - cooly pouched by Ben Foakes - was Lawrence's classiest dismissal of the day. It also paved the way for Steel to remove the final four, all caught by Jamie Overton at first slip except for Tom Bailey, who scuffed high to cover.
Though Steel had the honour of leading the team off and keeping the ball, Lawrence would have been nourished by the quality and scale of his work. This was the most he has bowled in an innings, beating a previous high of 24.3 overs - the only other time he has bowled more than 20 - in April 2022 for Essex against Kent, which produced his previous best of 3 for 98. This was only the sixth time he has bowled in 42 red-ball innings since.
Steel, while acknowledging "one of his best days", reserved special praise for his partner's workload "into a gale-force wind". At times they seemed to exaggerate Lawrence's windmilling action to resemble the chaotic flailing arms of those inflatable men found in front of American used car lots.
A 15-minute delay when the makeshift tarpaulin sightscreen hung on the pavilion blew off and umpire Peter Hartley's hat flying off most of the way to the boundary were reminders conditions might have the final say in this encounter. That being said, a tacky pitch has already shown enough for the spinners in its first 76 overs.
At the very least, Hartley and Lyon should get the chance over the next two days to construct their own riposte to Steel and Lawrence, as well as the discourse.

Vithushan Ehantharajah is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo