Marcus Hook’s Surrey CCC column: Dan Lawrence a quality signing – but will it block pathway for academy products?

A  bit like the Andy Dwyer reaction gif one often sees accompanying the unexpected on social media, I couldn’t believe my eyes last week.

It wasn’t when England declared their first dig with Joe Root going well, neither was it when Root pulled out the ramp shot to the first ball of day four at Edgbaston.

What had me doing not a double-take, but a triple-take was seeing the news that Dan Lawrence will be playing for Surrey next season. Since making his maiden first-class century in 2015, at the age of 17, Lawrence has grown and grown at Essex.

For them to lose him now – one suspects Sir Alastair Cook hasn’t much left in the tank – must be a huge blow, especially if, as has been reported, Lawrence was offered more money to stay than he’ll be getting at Surrey.

Lawrence was quoted as saying: “It is with a heavy heart I will be leaving Essex at the end of this season. Whilst an incredibly difficult decision, it is one that I am taking to continue my development as a cricketer.”

Alec Stewart, Surrey’s director of cricket, added: “After just a couple of conversations it was apparent Dan wants to fulfil his ambitions of being the very best player he can be.”

Both quotes were revealing.

Lawrence is already one of the best batters in the country. Chances are, at 25, he will only get better. So, it’s a great signing.

It also speaks volumes for the environment at The Oval, engendered by head coach Gareth Batty, which must be the envy of some counties – certainly the ones who find themselves with just a handful of victories 11 weeks into the season.

However, the signing of Lawrence troubles me slightly, not just because Surrey are seen as the moneybags of county cricket, but because their academy system is widely regarded as the most fruitful on the circuit.

Stewart has always said his aim is for at least 60 per cent of those playing for Surrey to be homegrown.

This season, the figure, based on the number of appearances, has been 61 per cent, so the arrival of Lawrence could tip the balance away from maintaining that sense of identity. Lawrence is vying for a spot in England’s middle order, but it’s hard to see a three to seven of Pope, Root, Brook, Stokes and Bairstow being broken up any time soon.

What does surprise me, though, is the stat that Surrey’s Ollie Pope has an infinitely better record in the first innings of Tests than the second.

Pope’s 14 on Monday dipped his career average to 16.56 in second visits to the crease, compared to a first-innings mark of 47.91. Only one of his 15 fifty-plus scores in Test cricket has come in the second dig.

When Surrey chased down 501 to beat Kent, everyone said it was a shame Dom Sibley’s stickability no longer seems to have a place in Test cricket.

But even though the Edgbaston Test produced some spellbinding and often adrenaline-fuelled cricket, the player of the match was Australia’s Usman Khawaja.

Khawaja faced 518 balls – 45 more than Sibley did at Canterbury.

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