Dan Lawrence showcases talent with ton for Championship challengers Essex
Essex 302 for 6 (Lawrence 147, ten Doeschate 78*) lead Surrey 174 (Porter 5-62, Cook 5-53) by 128 runs
Dan Lawrence has fallen off the England radar somewhat since he caused so much excitement as a 17-year-old with a maiden Championship hundred against Surrey. More than four years on, he treated the same county to a reminder of the talent that might yet win him England recognition and quickened Essex's Championship challenge in the process.
While county matches around the country were careering ahead at a startling rate on mid-September surfaces, Lawrence produced one of the more considered innings seen at Chelmsford late in a season that has been largely fought out in bowler-orientated conditions.
After Surrey lost their last six wickets for 22 in 61 deliveries to be dismissed for 174, many wise observers, the guru himself, Keith Fletcher, among them, felt that an Essex first-innings lead would be a challenging proposition, and when Alastair Cook became the third wicket to fall on 53, it did nothing to assuage the feeling.
But Lawrence shared partnerships of 72 in 24 overs with Ravi Bopara and 173 in 40 with Ryan ten Doeschate as Essex reached the close at 302 for 6 with a lead of 128. Even the loss late on of Lawrence for 147, caught at second slip off Morne Morkel, as the light faded could not temper Essex's satisfaction. Ten Doeschate remains on 78 and has alighted on some batting form when it matters most.
Such was Lawrence's influence that this match might actually go into the final day, a requirement so rare this season that it would be no surprise to discover that Chelmsford Produce Association have already booked the outfield.
He had few moments of alarm, although Surrey will rue the chance missed at short midwicket when he was only 9. On 50, he chopped the offspinner Amar Virdi uncomfortably into the leg side and it invited speculation that a pitch which has been designed for the offspin of Simon Harmer was about to grip.
But Virdi found little purchase in 24 wicketless overs as Essex took control of the match and Surrey even turned to the leg spin of Scott Borthwick, who had only bowled 15 Championship overs all season - he strained a side while batting in a pre-season match against Durham UCCE - and is still awaiting his first victim after another seven overs here.
Reputations are hard to shake off and it was no surprise to find that Lawrence's thoughtful hundred was marked by a photo of him working a ball to the leg side: it is his stock in trade.
But this innings had a different flavour. Surrey examined his off side game and as he reached his first hundred by sweeping a leg side gift from Borthwick through square leg it was only his third leg-side boundary. At that point, 11 fours and a six had come through the offside, 63 runs in all, with Liam Plunkett one of the chief seamers to suffer.
Surrey's ambitions were initially whetted by three wickets for Jordan Clark. Nick Browne was bowled by one that straightened from around the wicket shortly just before lunch, and then saw Tom Westley depart to the first ball after the interval, lbw as he played all around one that might have clipped leg stump. Clark had his third wicket when he swung a ball back into Cook's back pad: there will have been no need for dressing room replays of that one.
Surrey's innings lasted just 70 minutes on the second morning as they crashed from their overnight 137 for 4 to 174 all out. Jamie Porter and Sam Cook both returned five-wicket hauls as they pounded a better length than they had on the opening day. Surprisingly, Porter's 5 for 62 was only his second of the season; Cook has had three five-fors in his last four innings
Ben Foakes was the most unfortunate Surrey batsmen as he got one from Cook that kept low, but Will Jacks poked at a wide one and Clark's attempts to produce some 10th-wicket mayhem came to grief with an ugly leg-side slog.
Nine Championship hundreds at 22 is a tidy record - Jason Roy has the same number, at 29, and it didn't prevent him from a place in England's Test side in the Ashes series. For Lawrence, still only 22, and having recently committed himself to Essex until 2021, there remains time to win that England place.
This was a day, though, when for the media at least a hundred also had to share the acclaim with a 50. For half-a-century, Nigel Fuller has followed the affairs of Essex and that landmark was recognised with a lunchtime presentation. Fuller's assessment is that both Cook and Bopara outdid Lawrence for their potential as a young player; the reputation that Lawrence must live up to, it appears, is not quite as onerous as he might imagine.
Fuller also tells that according to no lesser judge than Trevor Bailey, a fixture in England's side in the 1950s and later a commentator with Test Match Special, believed the finest young Essex-based batsman he ever saw was Stewart Robson, as a 13-year-old in the Essex League at Ilford. Robson turned instead to football with Arsenal and West Ham United. One can only speculate what he might have achieved.