Dan Lawrence batted throughout the final day to post the fifth first-class century of his career and earn Essex a draw in their opening Division One Specsavers County Championship match. It was a result that had looked beyond them for much of the four days at Chelmsford.
Essex had been set an improbable 478 to win. Otherwise they had to bat through four sessions plus seven overs to save the game and prevent Lancashire winning for only the first time in 12 Championship matches. That they did so was largely down to a mature innings from the 19-year-old Lawrence, a player tipped for England honours in the not-too-distant future. He did his case no harm here.
Lawrence was out in the middle for all but the first 21 overs of Essex’s second innings. He had come in at the fall of Varun Chopra’s wicket the previous evening when Essex had slumped to 52 for two, still 425 short of the target.
Lawrence said: "It’s the favourite of my five centuries because I managed to bat all day and get the team out of a hole. I didn’t do it all alone, there were fantastic efforts from the other boys.
"But I think it is quite important not to celebrate a draw. We had our backs up against the walls, it was a tough first three days, and it took a lot of character today from the boys to fight through and get a draw. Personally, it is very satisfying, but we will look to push on and get a win next week."
An obdurate third-wicket partnership of 135 with Tom Westley set the tone for the day. When Westley’s tenacious 190-ball innings ended half-an-hour after lunch, Essex had used up 58 valuable overs and the impossible had become possible. However, his departure heralded a mini-collapse that was only steadied when Ryan ten Doeschate came in and helped Lawrence put on 102 for the sixth wicket. Lawrence finished on 141, having batted for 333 balls and hitting 18 boundaries.
Despite having Jimmy Anderson in their armoury, Lancashire were unable to repeat their first-innings domination with the ball when they needed just 66 overs to skittle Essex for 159. They remainedoptimistic right until hands were shaken at 6.01pm with two balls remaining.
Westley and Lawrence had taken a risk-free approach from the start of a morning session during which they added 73 runs in 32 overs and both brought up their half-centuries.
Lawrence, having given Westley a 20-ball start, was first to fifty. A gentle push off Stephen Parry into the covers, brought the single from the 125th ball he had faced. At that point he had hit seven fours.
Westley followed shortly before the interval when he crashed Jordan Clark through the covers for his fifth four of an innings that had spanned 163 balls to that point. It also brought up the century partnership in 48 overs.
Runs had not come easily in the first hour with Anderson in particularly parsimonious mood. His first six overs of the day went for just two runs. When Lawrence pulled him through midwicket for four he kicked out at the ground in frustration. His initial eight-over spell, before the stand-in captain took himself off, cost just nine runs with five maidens.
The batsmen were parted when Stephen Parry was switched to the Hayes Close End for the first time in the match and worked one through Westley’s defences to knock off the bails. Westley’s 61 included six fours.
The new-ball was taken soon after. Kyle Jarvis used it to good effect, striking twice in the space of seven deliveries. His ninth ball accounted for Ravi Bopara, caught behind playing tentatively forward for four.
Next over, Adam Wheater hammered a wide half-volley just inches off the ground straight to Haseeb Hameed at cover. He departed for a second successive innings of one. Fortunately for Essex, Lawrence continued to show remarkable restraint and was duly rewarded. He flicked Anderson’s first ball of a new spell off his hip for two through square leg to reach a 216-ball century.
Clark strayed down legside twice in successive deliveries and Lawrence glanced them away to the boundary as he ground out a second century stand of the innings, this one with ten Doeschate. Lawrence drove Parry through the covers for the boundary that took the pair through the three-figure mark in 35 overs
Ten Doeschate took his cue from the youngster, but when he was lbw for 41 to give Parry his sixth wicket of the game, Essex still had 10.5 overs to negotiate in deteriorating conditions with the floodlights on.
Of Lawrence’s knock, Lancashire’s stand-in captain Jimmy Anderson said: “He played well. He played exactly as you should do on that pitch. He’s clearly got a good temperament to bat the way he did today and steer his team home to the draw. As a 19-year-old he’s still got a long way to go.
"It’s frustrating but all credit to Essex, I thought they played brilliantly today. We bowled as well as we could to try to win the game but couldn’t quite get over the line.”
Lawrence, talking of his battle with Jimmy Anderson, England’s top wicket-taker of all time, said: “There were a few words of encouragement from Jimmy! No, he didn’t have much to say, to be fair. They were trying to get me out as hard as they could and I was trying to survive."