I’ve known Dan Lawrence was destined for greatness since he was 16 – Nick Browne

Dan Lawrence is set for his Test debut in Galle on Thursday and Essex team-mate Nick Browne has insisted he was always destined to play international cricket.

The 23-year-old is on course to conclude a roller-coaster 12 months on a high after being selected by England for the first game of a two-match series against Sri Lanka this month.

It will be a proud moment for everyone at Essex and in particular Browne, who has known the batsman since their Trinity Catholic High School days.

While there have been many standout moments for Lawrence, not least the 161 he scored in his second first-class match, it was days after his 16th birthday when he really caught the eye of his then second-team captain.

“I remember playing a game at Coggeshall (against Middlesex 2nd XI) and he must have been 16,” Browne told the PA news agency.

“I was fighting for a contract and 50 not out and Dan ran me out! I had picked him up in the morning and had to take him home afterwards.

“I was fuming, but he ended up getting a century and I thought, ‘OK this kid is actually quite good’ so I knew I had to calm down before the journey home.

“Even then we knew. He was obviously different the way he played with his technique being very unique, but we knew there was something. Maybe his confidence really because even coming into the first team at Essex, he knew he was good enough.”

Lawrence did not wait around following that 121 and against a star-studded Surrey team at the Oval in April 2015, he made the world take note.

Browne struck 143, but it was his 17-year-old partner who grabbed the headlines with 161 runs on just his second County Championship appearance.

“That innings was remarkable because we knew he could play, but not like that,” the Essex opener admitted.

  • 74 matches

  • 3,948 runs

  • 10 hundreds

  • 37.96 average

“He ended up running down the wicket and whacking Gareth Batty and Zafar Ansari for sixes.”

It has not been a completely straightforward journey for ‘Legside Larry’ in spite of further impressive centuries over the next two seasons – including against a Jimmy Anderson-led Lancashire attack in 2017.

After Lawrence helped Essex clinch the County Championship that year, he went through a lean patch, but a cut down on his trigger ended his wait for a maiden red-ball hundred in the 2019 campaign.

Browne added: “I am one who stands still so I said, ‘try standing still and see how you go’ and he did it messing around in a net session and thought it was quite good.

“He worked hard with (batting coach) Tom Huggins and (head coach) Anthony McGrath on standing still and he tried it for a day or two maybe.

“We then played Surrey and he hit a hundred and we couldn’t believe he had changed his technique in two days. To have the confidence to do that, and then back himself to be all right, it was a massive change for him.”

Results were instant and when Lawrence built on that with the England Lions by scoring 190 against the Cricket Australia XI followed by 125 against Australia A, an international debut seemed closer than ever.

The coronavirus pandemic ensured there would be a delay but the Essex star did manage to hone his skills while in the England bubble and Browne feels he returned to the county champions “on a different level”.

Test cricket is a big step up and especially when asked to make your international bow on the subcontinent, but Lawrence will take inspiration from Sir Alastair Cook, who scored a century on his debut in India.

Nottinghamshire all-rounder Samit Patel is all too familiar with what the Essex batter will be thinking after he also made his maiden England Test appearance in Sri Lanka.

The 36-year-old has only recently returned home from the country after he appeared in their domestic Twenty20 tournament and reflected on the challenge ahead for Lawrence.

Patel told the PA news agency: “The conditions were 38 degrees and 90 per cent humidity in 2012.

“It was pretty tough and you have a constant sweat on. I think Matt Prior changed his inners around eight times so you can just imagine what it was like and the bowlers coming off after every session would swap T-shirts.

“Hydration is probably key out there. You can get into a bit of a mental grind, especially batting in the middle order where runs don’t open up as freely as they do at the top.

“There are not as many gaps. Guys that do bat in the middle overs on the subcontinent, we sometimes get stuck and then we look at the scoreboard and you have faced 55 balls for three runs. Mentally it drains you.”

Browne revealed the Essex squad were due to wake early on Thursday to watch Lawrence in action on the TV and Patel explained the key to success, saying: “It would be great if he could go out and play the way he does.

“If he is busy and looks to rotate strike, that will be important and is always a big thing in the subcontinent.”