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Feature

The inside story of county cricket's most eye-catching transfers

Dan Lawrence's move to Surrey was the shock of the summer... until Jordan Cox replaced him at Essex

Dan Lawrence and Jordan Cox have made high-profile transfers  •  Adam Sofroniou/Surrey CCC and Getty Images

Dan Lawrence and Jordan Cox have made high-profile transfers  •  Adam Sofroniou/Surrey CCC and Getty Images

They don't come much more Essex than Dan Lawrence. He spent the first half of his life living in a house that backed onto Chingford Cricket Club, where his dad Mark is the groundsman, and speaks with an unmistakable accent. He has played more than 200 games for the county across formats, scoring 15 hundreds, and his girlfriend is the chief executive's daughter.
No wonder, then, that commuting into The Oval and pulling on a Surrey tracksuit for his new county's media day on Wednesday felt a little strange. "It's very new," Lawrence said with a sheepish grin. "But I'm just really excited to get going, to be honest. It's obviously a brilliant club, and I'm excited to crack on."
Lawrence's move happened quickly last summer, and caught most people in county cricket by surprise. Essex said that he rejected "a very strong three-year contract" to stay put and those involved in the deal have insisted that his desire to make the move meant that money did not play much of a role.
The deal was wrapped up and announced within two weeks of June 1, the date on which out-of-contract players are allowed to speak to other counties. "As soon as Surrey came knocking, it was a pretty quick decision for me to come this way," Lawrence said. "To be honest, I think the only club I would have come to would have been here."
So why Surrey? "I felt like for the benefit of my career, it was time to explore somewhere else," he explained. "It's great coming to a club that's really successful and has won a lot in the last few years; being around a group of players who are very like-minded and inspiring to try and achieve the same thing.
"The appeal of batting at The Oval is quite a big thing for me. The wickets are very good and it allows you more opportunity to score big, bulk runs. It's been frustrating running the drinks quite a lot for England: it's been ten Tests in a row I've sat there and watched. It's been great to be there but obviously I want to play and I feel like this place gives me the best opportunity to play for England again."
There is also the prospect of moving into London permanently - even if navigating the housing market alongside the early stages of the county season will be a challenge. "The price difference is a bit much from Essex," Lawrence joked. "Me and my girlfriend are obviously quite a young couple, so we're quite keen to get into the mix and see what London has got for us. It should be great."
A similar sense that the action was elsewhere was the spur for Lawrence's replacement at Essex to hop across the Thames Estuary and complete the second-most eye-catching move of the English off-season, one which was finalised around six weeks after Lawrence's own departure was confirmed.
It's coming up for four years since Jordan Cox announced himself with an extraordinary 238 not out for Kent against Sussex in the Covid-era Bob Willis Trophy; it's been 18 months since Cox's first England call-up, as an unused reserve on the T20 tour of Pakistan in September 2022. Since then, however, a badly broken finger has hampered his progress, and midway through last summer he decided he could wait no longer to reignite his ambition.
"I needed a change," Cox said at Chelmsford, on his first day in Essex colours. "When you're not enjoying your cricket at 22, 23, that's when you need to branch out and experience something new. I wasn't performing great last year in the red-ball side of it, but I wasn't enjoying the off-field side more than the actual play. So, I took the opportunity to get out of my contract, which I think was needed."
"Pulling the pin", as he put it, did not go down especially well with his former club, with Kent stating that they were "disappointed" in a terse press release, and with Sam Billings, the club captain, criticising his decision on social media. Cox, however, insisted he had "never shut the door", and that he'd be open to a return to the club that he had represented since the age of 10 if Kent's ambition across formats could match his own.
"It might sound a bit rogue, but I'd rather play Test cricket than T20 cricket," he said. "How Baz [McCullum] and [Ben] Stokes are doing this Bazball type of cricket, why wouldn't you want to play? It looks like a great environment.
"Kent are fighting for the Blast every year. They are consistently very good, but in four-day cricket, I don't think they are at this moment. I've never had many feelings of a four-day win. For a couple of years at Kent, we were pretty consistently doing 140 overs in the dirt, every single game. So it would be nice to be on the other end of it, and reignite my love of four-day cricket."
There was another big draw for Cox. Having spent five formative years at Felsted School, nine miles down the road from the County Ground, he admitted that the chance to work on a daily basis with Jason Gallian, his former school coach who is now chair of Essex's cricket committee, had been a clincher.
"It was a very big reason," Cox said. "He's still my batting coach today. He's in Australia at the minute on holiday which is lovely, but I need him back for my grind!
"He's been awesome since I was in year nine, like 14 years of age. Because he's seen me since I was young, when I had that freedom and didn't really care about things, he'll be like 'why are you not doing this, like you used to do?'. Sometimes, depending on where you bat in franchise cricket, you're just slogging, so then to get back into the red-ball side of it again, he sorts out my technique."
As for filling Lawrence's shoes at Essex, Cox insisted that he was focused only on his own game, but said he recognised the restlessness that had caused his predecessor to seek pastures new.
"Dan's been pretty unlucky hasn't he?" Cox said. "For Brooky [Harry Brook] to have the year that he did was pretty unbelievable. Dan has been pushed aside, in a way, which is just probably unlucky but a bit annoying for him. But I think it'll come to him. I can't see why it wouldn't. Because he's now classified as an allrounder with his bowling, so he's always got a chance."
That's certainly the view of the man himself, with Lawrence also believing that he'll have a better chance to develop his idiosyncratic offspin at The Oval, having found opportunities limited by the success of Matt Critchley and, in particular, Simon Harmer at Essex. "If you're taking a few wickets as well as scoring runs, your chances increase of playing for England," he said.
"It's our job to help him evolve as a player, and try to be better," Gareth Batty, Surrey's coach, said. "The sky is the limit for the young man. I think he could be a genuine allrounder; there is enough with his bowling that we can evolve it beautifully." With Will Jacks absent on IPL duty in the early months of the county season, Lawrence will likely deputise as Surrey's main spin option.
Of course, Lawrence isn't alone in gearing up for a shot at glory at The Oval this summer. Despite his new surroundings, Cox is no less eager for a return to Oval Invincibles for the 2024 Hundred, where he hopes to pick up where he left off as the tournament top-scorer last year, prior to his broken finger.
"The Oval is the best place to play cricket, 100%," he said. "It is a full crowd every game, an awesome wicket, and also, you're playing with some pretty decent players. Plus, Tom Moody is there as the head coach and I like to follow him as much as I can.
"I think it's the best tournament in the world, and I'm happy to say that," he added. "I haven't been to the IPL but it's nine weeks and the Hundred is three-and-a-half, four weeks. All the overseas want to come, I was talking to the boys in Abu Dhabi and Pakistan, they were all saying 'the draft's next week. I can't wait. I really want to come.' And I'm like, mate, it's the best comp ever. Like, unbelievable. The crowds are great and the standard of cricket's quality."
Despite his palpable ambition, Cox knows that his sole focus has to be on the challenge that lies directly in front of him. "Do the best you can for Essex and it can kick on," he said. "Like Harry Brook two years ago, he did his thing for Yorkshire, he scored those ridiculous amounts of runs. That made him get picked for England.
"He wasn't desperate just to play for England - he just knew it would come when it comes - but he wanted to score runs for Yorkshire. Hopefully this is the year that I do a Harry Brook. That'd be nice. But if you don't have that self-belief, then you're going to be struggling."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. Matt Roller is an assistant editor.

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