Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he has already played first-class cricket, against the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Kumar Sangakkara, and knows how these things work. But the first impression one gets upon meeting Dan Lawrence, who is all of 18, is the composure with which he goes about things, his maturity in handling situations.
The England Under-19 top-order batsman, who bowls a bit of legspin, currently enjoys the view from the top of the run-scorers’ table at the ICC Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh: 229 runs in two matches, comprising a century and a half-century, at an average of 114.50. The average is bound to drop the more he plays, but his is a talent that has already been noted around the world, and it is cause for high hope in England.
There is good reason for that. In April last year, in just his second first-class game, Lawrence became the third youngest batsman to score a century in the County Championship – he hammered 161 for Essex against Surrey when he was 17-years and 290-days old. It was a knock that displayed skill and style, and more pertinently, self-assurance.
“It was obviously a great feeling,” Lawrence tells Wisden India when asked to recollect the landmark. “It was against Surrey, and it was only my second game, so I was quite nervous. I wasn’t really expecting to do much. But I was playing against Pietersen and Kumar, so it was a great feeling getting a hundred against them. Having all my family there and getting a hundred at The Oval was surreal.”
Lawrence was born into cricket. No, really. His father was a groundsman at Chingford Cricket Club in London, and used to live at the club’s premises. For a time, the club was Lawrence’s home, literally. It was only natural that he picked up the sport. “I spent a lot of time when I was younger in the nets, hitting lots of balls. Because I lived at the ground, I didn’t really have much choice buy to play cricket. So that’s how I started.”
He first opened the batting for Chingford at the age of 13. Since then, he has risen through the age-group ranks and eventually signed up with Essex, where he was guided by an array of international stars. “We had Monty (Panesar) last year, he didn’t play a lot for personal reasons. But then we had Jesse (Ryder), Ryan ten Doeschate, Ravi Bopara,” recalls Lawrence. “They helped me out massively. They’re really good with youngsters. They help you out in the nets whenever you need it, they help you out with a place to stay if you’re near the ground … they help you out with cricket as much as they can because they’ve played so much and it sort of calms you down having them around.”
From the evidence so far at the World Cup, Lawrence uses a straight bat – always a good sign – and likes to go after the bowling from the outset. He is also handy with the ball, and has already picked up two wickets, against West Indies Under-19.
All said, though, Lawrence is much like many other English teenagers. If not cricket, he would love to play Premiership football – “just for the money … great lifestyle, play football and loads of money,” he says with a cheeky grin. Had he not been born into a cricket club, the sport might have lost him to football, given that he lives just 20 minutes away from White Hart Lane. “I support Tottenham (Hotspur). I only live 20 minutes down from the ground. So I’ve supported Tottenham all my life. So yeah, it’s good. They are doing very well at the moment. Hopefully we don’t bottle it like we usually do.”
However, he was always going to do something related to sports. “To be a sportsman, that’s what I’d want to do in any sort of thing. If not, maybe working in London uptown, getting suited and booted every day and do stuff like that. But yeah, mainly sports.”
The England squad possesses as many as nine players who have played first-class cricket. As much as it is a reflection on their advantage at the World Cup, it is also a statement on the youth structure in England, where the focus has shifted to empowering the young ones.
“It helps having so many people playing first-class cricket because you learn more from older, senior players and you just sort of know more about the game when you’re coming into this tournament,” says Lawrence. “It adds a certain level of maturity to how we’re going to go about it. Everyone sort of has a good idea of what everyone is going to do and how they are going to do it. Obviously we’re not perfect, but hopefully we’re closer than few of the other lads from other teams.”
In fact, England’s strategy to embrace youth since their poor outing at the 2015 50-over World Cup has served as extra motivation to Lawrence, and indeed, the rest of the squad. “Hopefully, if you do well here and you can score a lot of runs on TV and in front of the right people, it can only sort of keep making you go up and up the steps,” he says. “The England one-day team, at the moment, is going up and up. They are an exciting young team and we’re actually getting to the right sort of time – everyone is playing. The game’s changed from getting 250 for a par score – it’s now 350. The way the game’s being played now, myself and a lot of the other lads in the team can fit well into the system. It’s quite an exciting time for English cricket.
“It’s good how they’re giving opportunities to young players. And it sort of gives all of us a bit of a kick up the backside to get us to keep performing and get ourselves to that level.”
The occasional kick up the backside is good. Lawrence has exhibited positive signs so far. The trick is to fulfill the potential. If kicks up the backside can ensure he does that, then so be it.