Dan Lawrence hopes to reprise role as Australia's nemesis in BBL stint
Essex batsman starred on England Lions' 2019-20 tour Down Under
"I just love Australia." An unusual sentence to hear from a promising England batsman, perhaps, but one that makes perfect sense in Dan Lawrence's case.
After various stints in grade cricket, including on an ECB placement working with the renowned batting coach Neil 'Noddy' Holder, Lawrence went on England Lions' tour Down Under last winter and scored heaps of runs - 493 of them to be precise, in six innings across formats. Not since Kevin Pietersen in 2003-04 had an England 'A' player caught the eye to such an extent on a second-string tour, and Lawrence's performances did not go unnoticed by the powers that be.
Circumstances conspired to deny him the breakthrough summer that many had anticipated, but Lawrence is returning to Australia this winter for his first stint in a major overseas T20 competition, after signing for five games with the Brisbane Heat. It will not be lost on him that if he is back again the following year, there is every chance it will be as part of an England Ashes squad.
"It's a place I love playing," Lawrence says. "The wickets are really good so it's a brilliant place to bat. But I also just love the country. I feel at ease there. It's such a great place to play. I'm really looking forward to heading out - I just love Australia."
Just getting the chance for regular cricket will be a step-up from Lawrence's summer experience. In the midst of the pandemic, the need to keep a number of reserves alongside the England squad meant that for players on the fringes of the Test team like him, James Bracey and Jack Leach, there was no real opportunity to put performances on the board in county cricket.
Instead, he will have to hope that he impressed sufficiently while training with the Test team, and continue to score as many runs as he can when the opportunity comes. He admits to some level of disappointment about not being given a chance for a Test debut, but is more positive than many about the bubble experience.
"It was quite an odd summer," he says. "I was obviously desperate to get out there. It was amazing to be involved in the squad - yeah, I was a bit disappointed not to get a go, but I understand why [I didn't] and it was good to be in the mix. There's only a certain amount you can actually do without playing but I trained really well and enjoying being with all the lads. Hopefully I left quite a good impression.
"I definitely didn't find it [living in a bubble] horrendous. There was the odd moment when I wanted to get out into the outside world - even little things like going out for a coffee and stuff like that. But with what's going on, you can't, and it's quite a nice position to be in, being involved with England. You've got to take the good with the bad."
After a short break from the game following the death of his mother Claire, Lawrence returned to Essex for the final months of the season and admits that he did not contribute in the way he would have liked, averaging a shade below 30 in both the Bob Willis Trophy - which Essex won - and the T20 Blast.
"It was a tough one, being put straight back in. I think I only batted five or six times in red-ball cricket. In the T20s I'd have liked a few more runs [but] I felt like I only batted a handful of times, so it was tough to get into any sort of real rhythm."
He will get a chance - albeit a brief one - to find that rhythm in the Big Bash, where he is set to be one of more than a dozen English overseas players. With multiple offers for a short-term deal on the table, he opted for Brisbane Heat due to the opportunity to work under Darren Lehmann's stewardship, as well as Chris Lynn's captaincy. His suitability as an overseas player is helped by his experience on the pitches being used early in the season, as well as his proficiency against spin and the fact he offers teams an extra bowling option with his whirly offbreaks.
"Having people like that around you out there is the brilliant thing about franchise cricket. You can only keep on learning. I'll definitely be badgering a few people, and there should be more time for it [than usual], sitting in a few hotel rooms.
"The Big Bash is a competition that I've always wanted to be involved in: I think they market it so well and it looks like such an inviting league to go and play in. I'm only there for five games so if I can turn up and make a score in two or three of them, put in big performances and catch the right people's eyes then I'll take it from there."
In addition to the BBL, Lawrence has been retained by the London Spirit in the Hundred ahead of its 2021 launch. He suggests it was not a difficult decision to re-sign with the opportunity to work with Eoin Morgan and Shane Warne on the table, but maintains that despite penning two short-form deals simultaneously, there is no doubt as to his preferred format.
"I think red-ball cricket is always going to be my bread and butter. It's always going to be the format that I'm most desperate to play in, and even though these leagues and opportunities are brilliant, I think trying to play for England in Test cricket is the ultimate goal. Who knows, hopefully in the next 12-24 months I can get the nod.
"I've just got to try and bang out the runs as much as possible, and put pressure on the boys who are currently in those spots any way that I possibly can. It's something that I've always wanted to do, and I've got to keep scoring runs to do it. I love T20 cricket, but I think red-ball cricket is always going to be my number one."
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98