Dan Lawrence gets Essex defence off to a strong start against Worcestershire
- Credit: PA
Dan Lawrence returned from his England adventures with a well-made 46 as Essex began their defence of the LV= Insurance County Championship and Bob Willis Trophy against Worcestershire.
Lawrence made his Test debut over the off-season with appearances in Sri Lanka and India, and recalibrated himself to English conditions quickly at the Cloudfm County Ground, Chelmsford.
He put on 73 for the third wicket with captain Tom Westley, who starred with an unbeaten 84, as Essex totted up 207 for three before bad light stopped play, with almost 15 overs lost in the day.
Essex, who lifted the inaugural Bob Willis Trophy last year and had won in the Championship in two of the three previous campaigns, elected to bat first in freezing conditions.
Alastair Cook and Nick Browne were watchful in the early stages on a green-tinged, but ultimately benign, wicket as they scored 30 in the first 13.3 overs before the former departed.
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Cook, who is in the last of his three-year post-England career contract, was plumb lbw to a Charlie Morris delivery which appeared to nip back a touch.
His opening partner Browne continued in a similar vein with Westley before loosely driving Ed Barnard on the up to Jake Libby at cover.
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As the sun appeared at lunch, the run-scoring became harder with the Worcestershire attack – which were metronomically accurate throughout the day - forcing Westley and Lawrence to bat carefully.
Lawrence, 23, scored 248 runs in five outings in hot and humid conditions in the sub-continent – the Chelmsford environment couldn’t have been much different, as he auditioned to keep his place in the national side with early season form.
He was largely forced to work for his runs, but scored four boundaries - all with a pleasing aesthetic.
His first was an on-drive while leaning over towards the off-side, he followed that with a cut-drive-jab hybrid through point and a controlled flash through the same region soon after.
The fourth, and final, of his fours was a showcase in timing as he rocked onto his back foot and pushed to the long-on boundary.
The right-hander departed a tantalising four runs short of a half-century, when he was adjudged lbw to Barnard.
Westley continued with an unbeaten 76 stand with Paul Walter, who ended the day on 26.
The five-capped Test batsman was made Essex’s four-day captain last year but endured a tricky Bob Willis Trophy campaign – he scored just one half-century and averaged 17.
But a winter working up his game-plans was rewarded as he reached a patient 129-ball fifty and raced past 20,500 first-class runs.
Over 70 per cent of Westley's runs came on the leg-side, typified with a selection of delightful on-drives, powerful pulls and flicks off his legs, before dingy April conditions prevented him from marching to three figures.
Westley said: “Attritional isn’t a word that has been used at Chelmsford for a couple of years but it was hard to score and I thought they bowled well.
“For us as a batting unit who haven’t scored as much as we would have liked to in the last few years to be in this position on day one in the season is a good start for us.
“It was challenging for me last year, in a strange season, where I was struggling to get past 10. So I’ll take 80 not out to start my season.
“I have been working on a few things with Anthony McGrath and Tom Huggins over the winter on things like my balance and trying to get my head further down the wicket.
“One of my strengths in my leg-side game and I’ve lost my balance in the past trying to take on balls that I thought were going down leg but were straighter than that.
“I thought Dan made batting look the easiest on that wicket. I think year-on-year he is maturing as a cricketer and is working out him game very quickly.
“I think it is only a matter of time before he starts scoring big hundreds for Essex. He’s been successful for us for a number of years but he seems to be getting better and better which is very good for Essex cricket and England.
“I thought he was quite unlucky today, but I am pleased for him and pleased to have him in the team.”