Technical tweaks the trigger for Dan Lawrence's stellar England Lions form
Essex batsman standing still in stance but taking strides forward in career after run-fest in Australia
Ever since he became the County Championship's third-youngest centurion back in 2015, some 75 days short of his 18th birthday, Dan Lawrence has been slapped with a 'one for the future' tag that has at times seem to weigh heavy on him.
In 2018, he made batting look like hard work, averaging 23.26 in first-class cricket as he passed fifty twice in 24 innings. The summer had been "a massively frustrating time", he would reflect.
But after a remarkable run of form in an England shirt on the Lions' tour to Australia, it seems as though that tag may soon be revised to include the present. Scores of 50 not out, 35 and 41 were complemented by six wickets with his improving offbreaks in the white-ball leg of the tour, before his 190 against a Cricket Australia XI was followed by 125 against Australia A under the MCG floodlights. All things considered, Lawrence could hardly have dreamt of making a better impression in an effective audition for the 2021-22 Ashes series.
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That success has not come through natural talent alone. After missing out on the Lions squads last winter, he travelled to Cape Town, where he spent several weeks "doing boring drill stuff" and "hitting loads and loads and loads of balls". The results were not startling, but after a solid summer across formats, an innings against Warwickshire during Essex's Championship charge proved the catalyst for a technical change which he credits with his breathtaking winter form.
"I've cut down on my trigger a lot," Lawrence explains. "I was getting that wrong in the summer quite a lot. I was getting out in silly ways. Standing a bit more still, and the game is feeling a little bit easier.
"It was something that I decided to do myself. I had a knock against Warwickshire at the end of last year and I was a bit like… I was finding it pretty hard to carry on triggering. So I just thought: 'sod it, I might as well change it up' and it's been feeling amazing so far."
Footage from last summer demonstrates the difference, which is simple but clear. Rather than stepping across towards the off side moments before delivery, Lawrence now stands still, focused on the bowler alone rather than his own movements.
"It's just something that I've been tinkering with myself really, just trying to find the best possible way to carry on with it. It's not perfect, but it's certainly a damn sight better than what it was. I'm pretty happy with where I am."
Much as his performances early in the tour were impressive, the standard of attack that the Lions faced was relatively low. That meant impressing against Australia A - with Test cap Jackson Bird and next-cabs-off-the-rank Michael Neser and Mitchell Swepson among the attack - became an important aim. Despite striding out at 55 for 3, Lawrence made hay on a good batting surface, adding 219 in partnership with Dom Sibley and plundering 17 boundaries in his 210-ball 125.
"Confidence was high, but that was a game I really wanted to do particularly well in. You don't get many chances to play at the MCG, so it was nice to get a bit of time in the middle there, and thankfully score some runs."
And, presumably, impressing in Australian conditions must have been a real fillip with half an eye on 2021-22? "There's an element of that, but it's more sort of taking the opportunities when they come. That's how I look at it anyway: if other stuff does come up, then happy days, but just trying to focus on every innings that I'm playing, be as ruthless as I possibly can be."
Lawrence's progress has been tracked by England from a young age: he impressed at the Bunbury festival in 2012, and graduated through the national age-group ranks including a strong showing at the U-19 World Cup in 2016. He has now been in and out of the Lions set-up for nearly three years, and was one of a select group of batsmen to travel to Mumbai on a spin camp at the end of last year.
"He's been a player of potential in our minds for some time," says Mo Bobat, the ECB's performance director. "I remember talking to him in Mumbai when he came across for the spin camp. Both myself and Ed [Smith, the national selector] spoke to him about the fact that there were a lot of people that rate the quality of his cricket. And I think that we wanted to see him score the volume of runs that, for want of a better phrase, his talent deserved.
"To be fair to him, he's gone out and done exactly that this trip. He couldn't have done much more in terms of volume of runs. And before I left I congratulated him on that and said that his challenge was doing exactly that this summer, which I hope he does. And if he does that he's not going to be far off.
"The thing he's hopefully done is prove to himself and others that he can score the volume of runs that he has scored and impact games the way he has. And the way actually many of us believe that he was capable of."
Perhaps the natural place for England to blood Lawrence is in their ODI team, with the format playing a secondary role to T20Is on account of consecutive T20 World Cups in the next two years. The situation is complicated, though, by the fact he will not play 50-over cricket this summer, unless picked for a Lions series: the Royal London Cup clashes with the Hundred, in which Lawrence will represent London Spirit.
That said, his captain in the competition will be Eoin Morgan, and Lawrence hopes his "ultra-aggressive" middle-overs style in short-form cricket can further his case for greater recognition. While he insists that a Test cap is the main aim, his stock is growing on the franchise circuit - his Lions commitments caused him to miss the Pakistan Super League, where he had signed with Karachi Kings - and a couple of winters globe-trotting is an attractive back-up option.
"I took T20 particularly seriously last summer, and it's something that I really wanted to improve on. It's nice having other options: obviously playing Test cricket is the ultimate number one for me, but it's nice to know that if things don't necessarily go that well in that department then I can fall back on hopefully playing T20 cricket, which is also a very good way of living.
"Obviously you have to use your brain sometimes and build innings in T20, but I decided to err on the side of being ultra-aggressive last year, and with a much clearer mind, I scored a lot more runs and had a lot more match-winning performances.
"I'm fairly confident in my ability, it's just getting out there and doing it now."
Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98