Matches (17)
IPL (2)
PAK v WI [W] (1)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
WT20 WC QLF (Warm-up) (5)
Match Analysis

Dan Lawrence lives up to expectations as England's hot-house bears fruit again

Nurtured like a tropical plant, Lawrence's maiden innings may herald the start of a long career

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
Dan Lawrence brought up his maiden Test fifty on debut  •  SLC

Dan Lawrence brought up his maiden Test fifty on debut  •  SLC

"The exciting thing for me is that this is the beginning of a very successful, long international career, where you'll be winning many, many games for England."
Individual batsmen may still harbour their superstitions, but the England management clearly doesn't believe in tempting fate these days. For these were the very words uttered by James Foster, the team's wicketkeeping consultant, in the minutes before the start of the Galle Test, as he presented Dan Lawrence, his former Essex team-mate, with his maiden Test cap.
No equivocation, no doubts, and only a fleeting nod to "luck" as Foster walked over to shake the youngster's hand and confer on him cap No. 697*. And sure enough, it has taken just two days for Lawrence to live up to those eagerly-expressed expectations, with a thrillingly sure-footed maiden fifty that leaves few reasons to doubt there will be much more to follow.
A note of caution is obligatory at this stage. There have been 103 debut half-centuries in England's 144-year history, and while David Gower and Peter May are notable examples of players who shone as brightly from the outset as they did in their pomp, Paul Allott and Liam Dawson also exist as proof of the old adage about all penguins being birds, but not vice versa.
But if you reduce that sample size to the dawn of the millennium onwards - which also happens to be the dawn of England's central contracts era - then a more focused picture appears. From the moment that England's 20th century survival-of-the-fittest mentality was ditched in favour of a mutually supportive team ethic, a total of 21 England batsmen, or one a year, have landed on their feet at the first time of asking (as opposed to just three in the whole of the 1990s - the ebullient Darren Gough, whose self-belief could launch armadas, and a pair of more designated allrounders in Dermot Reeve and Mark Ealham, both of whom, you sense, probably benefited from the job security that their second string offered).
That post-2000 list does include some curios, not least the current national selector Ed Smith, while likely lads of the future such as Ollie Pope and Zak Crawley are obvious absentees. But more relevantly for Lawrence's prospects of living up to Foster's lofty billing, it also features each of England's six highest run-scorers of the century.
There's Alastair Cook at Nagpur in 2006, of course, parachuted into a chaotic debut after hot-footing it from an A-team tour in the Caribbean. There's Kevin Pietersen at Lord's in 2005, whose unfettered assaults on Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath sowed the seeds of a fightback yet to come. In 2004, Andrew Strauss's Lord's debut was so unwavering that Nasser Hussain, a fellow century-maker, instantly knew his days were done.
Before that, came Strauss's long-term opening partner, Marcus Trescothick, whose demons may have curtailed his England career at the age of 30, but not before he'd chalked up 5825 Test runs at 43.79. And if Ian Bell faltered at times on his own path to the upper echelons of England's run-makers, then his average after three Tests, an unwieldy 297, was a clear sign that his class was worthy of investment.
And last but clearly not least, there's Joe Root, the current England captain, and Lawrence's partner throughout a fourth-wicket stand of 173 at Galle on Friday. He turned 30 a fortnight ago, he's likely to reach 8000 Test runs before this match is over, and he's set to play his 100th Test when the tour moves to India in three weeks' time. But it feels like only yesterday that Root himself was also making 73 on debut, in the fourth Test at Nagpur at the culmination of England's epic series win against India in 2012-13. Pietersen and Cook had bossed that campaign for England, but with a draw sufficient to seal the series, Root rocked up with an apprentice's performance of such mastery that few onlookers had any lingering doubts that they were witnessing the real deal.
So… expectations? Yep, there are a few bubbling below the surface for Lawrence. And yes, there will be tougher days in prospect that the one that he has just encountered. While batting in Asia is never an easy challenge, especially when the ball is spinning quite as sharply as it was when Jonny Bairstow was extracted without addition in the opening moments of today's play, Sri Lanka's performance with the ball was barely any more continent than their own batting had been on day one. Only the admirable Lasith Embuldeniya posed a consistent wicket-taking threat, until he too got collared as the hardness of the second new-ball backfired on a toiling attack.
And yes, there were flaws in Lawrence's maiden innings - a spilled nudge to gully, and a brace of missed stumpings, one of which drew a grin of amusement from Root as he all but hauled himself off his feet. But the most telling feature of his performance was the poise that he projected, right from the moment of his first two deliveries - a quick-wristed cuff into the covers to hustle off the mark first-ball, then a compact thump through the same region for his first boundary as Dilruwan Perera over-pitched.
Whatever nerves may have existed had vanished in a trice, and suddenly Lawrence was batting as an equal partner to his skipper. If Root's ruthless sweep-shots were the bread-and-butter of their stand, then the cream was provided in no uncertain terms by the new boy, who blatted Embuldeniya for a hold-the-pose six over cow corner, a shot that screeched of the sort of belonging that entire generations of England cricketers never dared to feel in years gone by.
It was a familiar brand of audacity, and one that many observers had probably been craning their necks to witness from the moment that Lawrence came to the crease. Comparisons with Pietersen don't have to be odious (although you wonder if Tom Banton, for one, might wish they weren't thrown his way quite so frequently) but there's something about Lawrence's imposing frame, meaty strokeplay, and preternatural confidence that evokes KP's arrival in the side in the 2005. There might even be something about his catching too, to judge by his first visible act as an England player, although hopefully he'll cling onto at least one of the first five chances that come his way.
There's something, too, about the selectors' eureka moment in the final months before their senior call-ups, when both men produced an acceleration of intent to prove beyond doubt their worthiness. For Pietersen, it was a run of performances on the England A tour of India in 2003-04 that, even to this day, stand out from the scorecards; for Lawrence, it was a match-winning century at the MCG back in February 2020, as England Lions completed their first victory in an unofficial Test in Australia, after seven blank campaigns.
For that's the thing about England's expectations these days. It's no longer simply that a good player rocks up with a reputation after a handful of county knocks, and gets the cocksuredness knocked out of him by team-mates and opposition alike. As alluded to by Foster in his capping ceremony, Lawrence is a pathway player, identified as a 15-year-old as Essex's Next Big Thing, and nurtured like a tropical plant thereafter. So too is his likely rival for selection in the short term, and likely sidekick for years to come, Pope - injured at present, but gunning for full fitness in India next month, the team against whom he debuted at Lord's in 2018.
Since then, of course, the world has turned upside-down, and Lawrence is the first England debutant of the Covid era - a player who has been part of the Test bubble since last June, a period of dressing-room hot-housing like no other in Test history. For months at a time, the players have been cooped up like contestants on Big Brother, and behind those closed doors, their characters - good, bad and insidious - will doubtless have been scrutinised by players, management and psychologists alike, and with every bit as much intensity as a high-octane passage of Test cricket.
Lawrence's apprenticeship has encompassed tragedy too, with the death of his mother in August leading to a spell of compassionate leave during the Pakistan Tests. But as Root reiterated at the close - and as frequently mentioned by James Anderson, the last man with a true insight into England's dog-eat-dog days of yore - the current dressing-room atmosphere is more accommodating and supportive than at any stage in its history.
"You just want them to feel as at home as possible," Root said at the close. "We have got a very good environment. We've got some really good senior players, a good group of lads who enable that process of coming into the team to be a smooth one and a nice one. If you feel comfortable in the environment, I do think it probably feeds into your game, but the most important thing is that they see that as a start of something very exciting to build on."
* Alan Jones was retrospectively awarded England cap No. 696 in June 2020 after playing against Rest of the World in one-off Test in 1970

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket