DAN Lawrence’s unbeaten half-century was the highlight as Essex had the better of a rain-affected opening day of the LV= Insurance County Championship season against promoted Middlesex at Lord’s.

Lawrence, a player still on the fringes of England selection despite a dismal 2022 Championship season where he averaged only 22.10, showed little of the aggressive intent so much in vogue to make 74 not out in a a score of 162 for three before bad light and rain intervened for the final time.

The 25-year-old, who survived a chance on 32, shared a third-wicket stand of 121 with skipper Tom Westley (48), while it was hard work for the home bowlers, for whom new skipper Toby Roland-Jones the pick with two for 42.

After Essex had lost the toss and been sent in, Sir Alastair Cook and opening partner Nick Browne rattled along early on despite the gloom, making the most of the friendly offerings served up by Roland-Jones and Tim Murtagh, who was uncharacteristically loose from his beloved Nursery End.

Neither batter entertained for long though, Cook falling for 16, the victim of a leg-side strangle off Roland-Jones, while Browne departed to the very next ball for 22, Sam Robson holding a fine catch above his head off the bowling of Murtagh.

Their demise brought Lawrence to the crease, a man with a case to make to the England selectors.

He began fractiously, surviving an injudicious charge down the wicket before Robson dropped him at slip.

To rub salt in the wounds, the right-hander drove luckless bowler Murtagh gloriously straight for four in the very next over.

Such shows of flamboyance were rare through much of the afternoon as circumspection superseded derring-do, but in harness with Westley, Lawrence batted the visitors into a position of strength, reaching 50 from 113 balls with seven fours.

The 100 partnership was delayed by tea-time rain, but on the resumption, Lawrence expanded his repertoire, flat-batting Roland-Jones through the covers before advancing to the next ball and lofting it over the same region.

Westley remained becalmed if untroubled and it was a surprise when he slashed the persevering Roland-Jones to backward point to depart just short of his half-century.

Soon afterwards the light closed in before the rain came again and play was abandoned for the day.