Essex (159 and 316-6) draw with Lancashire (319 and 317-3 dec)
A tremendous rearguard action led by Dan Lawrence, only 19, gave Essex a draw against Lancashire and reason to believe that their batting can keep them in the highly-competitive, eight-team first division.
Not many batsmen below the age of 20 aspire to bat all day - their horizon is more on 20 overs - but Lawrence had the temperament to score an unbeaten 141 and, more relevantly, to survive for 114 overs.
In only his second first-class game, at the age of 17 years and 290 days, Lawrence had scored a century against Surrey, which made him the third youngest ever to score a championship hundred. Godfrey Bryan did not go far for Kent, while Dipek Patel emigrated from Worcestershire to New Zealand and once reached 99 in a Test for them, but Lawrence could go all the way for England.
At the crease he was not only phlegmatic but busy. Lancashire had made the mistake of batting too long and too slowly in their second innings, so that Essex had not a sniff of a chance of chasing down 478, which allowed Lawrence to go at his own sweet pace. He did so in two century stands, heroically, as if he had been Lawrence of Arabia not Chingford.
After working on his hip in the gym in the morning, Alastair Cook could have been forgiven for seeing something of himself in Lawrence, though he is right-handed. Tall as well as studious, Lawrence was unruffled when hit on the shoulder by James Anderson, who was acting captain all day while Steven Croft nursed his right thumb. Like Cook, Lawrence never missed out on anything legside, and was particularly partial to mid-wicket; and, like Cook, Lawrence was not drawn forwards to cover-drive nearly often enough.
“I’ve been guilty a couple of times of playing some stupid shots and getting out in some very silly ways, so I’m trying to minimise that this season,” Lawrence said, after his fifth first-class hundred. “It wasn’t hard to put my usual shots away because I knew I had to bat all day and runs were never going to be an issue. It was more a mental battle for myself. I never play an innings like that.” He has now.
Anderson, never one to gush, said of Lawrence: “He played exactly as you should do on that pitch - he played straight. He’s clearly got a good temperament (but) as a 19 year-old he’s still got a long way to go.”
Anderson’s schedule is to miss Lancashire’s next game against Surrey then return for Somerset at Old Trafford. “I was a bit rusty in parts but the speed felt good so I’m happy,” Anderson said. The disappointment was that he could not get the ball to out-swing in Essex’s second innings.
Asked if he enjoyed the captaincy, Anderson said: “No, not really. If we’d have won the game I’d have said yes. Of course, I love doing it but it’s difficult when you’re trying to bowl a side out on a flat wicket. You’re always thinking if you can do something different. So I was asking for advice all the time from the senior players. But I’m not sure I’m cut out for it because I feel knackered now bowling and trying to captain as well – it’s pretty tough.”
And Lancashire had only themselves to blame for missing out on 16 points because they made the fundamental mistake of letting the game meander and, in consequence, Essex off the hook.
Lancashire let their second innings chug along at 3.3 per over in building on a lead of 160, They should have told Alex Davies to hit out or get out after reaching his maiden century, and promoted Jordan Clark to hit, and never mind Dane Vilas trying to accumulate - only five fours in his 92 - a hundred on his Lancashire debut.
It might have been different if Lancashire had taken the two simple chances offered by Tom Westley on Sunday evening, but that would still have left Lawrence to shift. Lawrence batted through the morning with Westley, both converting their starts into 55 not out by lunch. Then Westley was bowled by Stephen Parry just before the second new ball, which brought two wickets: a good ball that had Ravi Bopara caught behind and a bad one which had Adam Wheater caught at cover. But even this mini-collapse did not ruffle Lawrence.