TEENAGER Dan Lawrence says leaving college early to concentrate on his cricket was an easy decision, after he scored his maiden test century for Essex yesterday.

The 17-year-old smashed 100 off only 146 balls against Surrey to put Essex in a commanding position at the end of day three in their Division Two clash, with Paul Grayson’s side romping to 610-8 before declaring with a lead of 270.

The knock made him Essex’s youngest player to ever achieve the feat, at only 17 years and 290 days, and the third youngest centurion in County Championship history.

Lawrence was one of two Essex players to score a ton, with Nick Browne recording 143. But Lawrence’s 161 was the highlight of a terrific day for the visitors at the Kia Oval.

The right-hander only left school last summer, to focus on his cricket and the decision is seemingly already paying off.

“When I hit the cover drive off (Zafar) Ansari on 96 I knew it was going for four and I could start celebrating,” he said. “It was a great feeling. I’ve had quite a few messages already, especially from my old school friends.

“It was quite an easy decision for me to leave after just one year of the Sixth Form. I did my AS Levels but, in that last school year, I wasn’t really into my school work and I just wanted to go and play cricket. I went to Australia last winter, which was a great experience, and now I’m getting my chance with Essex.”

Lawrence scored 191 of the Essex Academy’s runs Down Under, with the team total 278 and he is learning with the very best at the County Ground. “I don’t have many heroes in the game,” said Lawrence, whose great uncle represented England. “But I suppose AB de Villiers would be my favourite batsman.

“At Essex we have some great players too – like Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara and Jesse Ryder – and they have all been fantastic to me. All the coaches at Essex have been great, and the bowlers like David Masters and Graham Napier have also helped me a lot by telling me how they would look to get me out and things like that.

“It really helps to know how they think.”

Surrey closed on 95-2, 175 runs behind Essex’s mammoth first innings total.