Few sights in sport are more intoxicating than that of an irresistible talent emerging. Those at the Oval were privileged that Daniel Lawrence provided them with such a sensation as he became the third youngest batsman to make a Championship century.

Ludicrous as it seems, Lawrence was born midway through the Ashes defeat of 1997. Already it is easy - much too easy - to hope that he might be the harbinger of rather better times for England. But at the age of 17 years and 290 days he compiled a chanceless century that was brimming with panache and self-assurance.

In doing so he compiled records - and lots of them: youngest ever Essex first-class centurion, youngest centurion at The Oval, and that third youngest Championship centurion of all time.

But this was not a performance to be measured in statistics. More than anything, its abiding memory was of Lawrence's staggering control - of his innings, of the bowling and of himself. With every languid straight drive, and every fine late cut, Lawrence was saying that he could not only survive at this level - in itself a not inconsiderable feat for one so young - but he could thrive.

It was apt that his historic moment was reached so emphatically. Four runs away from a century, Lawrence dreamily lent into an extra cover drive off Zafar Ansari, beating the man at cover so vigorously that there was no need to run.

Except of course there was: Lawrence needed to celebrate reaching his century. He galloped down the pitch, punching the air a couple of times and acknowledged the crowd's warm applause. But there were no real histrionics: Lawrence did not even raise his helmet. He had less the air of a history boy than a gnarled county pro expecting to score runs.

Lawrence left last year after doing his AS levels and suggested that his old school friends were rather envious. "I have spoken to a few of them already," he said. "They said 'I'm at school and you're at The Oval scoring runs' so I was loving it. The one year at sixth form I wasn't massively into purely because I wanted to play cricket and I sort of put all my eggs in one basket."

The lightness on his feet Lawrence displayed against spin - he followed a lofted straight six against Ansari on day two with another one today - was testament to the fact that he does not lack for audacity. "He's a confident lad so he'll back himself to the hilt," Nick Browne, Essex's day two centurion, had said overnight. "You've just got to keep reining him back sometimes."

Lawrence did not look in the mood to be reined in. Having reached his century in 146 balls, and with Surrey a bowler short due to the absence of Jade Dernbach, he spied an opportunity to plunder the attack. But, even while scoring at a-run-a-ball after reaching his century, Lawrence never lost his timing or placement; consecutive late cuts off Matt Dunn - each teasing the man at deep point before advancing over the ropes - were wonderful cases in point. The effect was to overshadow a Jesse Ryder half-century that bristled with intent.

Born and raised in Essex - he plays for Chingford Cricket Club, the same club who reared Doug Insole - perhaps Lawrence was made in part in Australia. He spent last winter playing for the Newtown and Chilwell Cricket Club in Geelong in Victoria; the club hosts an Essex player on a scholarship each year. It was not a stint that began well. Lawrence's flight was delayed and he missed a steepling catch at the start of his debut for the club.

But Lawrence is not the sort to get overwhelmed. By the end of the season, he had scored more first team runs than anyone else - 556 at 42.77 apiece - and won the player of the season award. He also made quite the impression on the club.

After the second day, when Lawrence was 47 not out, this correspondent received a message from the president of Newton and Chilwell saying: "On behalf of the Two Blues, and particularly the ones who sit up half the night getting the scores off the Internet, I want to congratulate Daniel." There is now cause for plenty more congratulations, not least Essex.

In recent years the club have been exasperated as so many talents have found fulfillment elsewhere, including Varun Chopra, the previous holder of the club record for the youngest Championship century. They will hope that this time is different, and, having nurtured Lawrence, they can enjoy the extent of his batting talent.

Paul Grayson, the coach, and company have not been shy to show faith in him and thrust into the side because of the IPL commitments of Ravi Bopara and Ryan ten Doeschate, Lawrence made only ten and three against Kent in the opening game. When Tom Westley suffered a broken thumb, it was quite an endorsement of Lawrence not merely to keep him in the side but promote him to No 3.

He provided stunning vindication. Indeed, until he edged Ansari behind attempting to run the ball to third man, on 161, Lawrence was cruising past WG Grace's record for the youngest man to score a double century in England. In an age when England cricket risks flirting with national irrelevance, the game is in need of an antidote to the gloom. And today Daniel Lawrence provided it.

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts