ANTHONY McGrath is looking forward to hooking up with winter sensation Dan Lawrence when Essex arrive in Abu Dhabi at the start of their pre-season training camp.

Lawrence should be awaiting his team-mates after flying in from Australia where he clocked up nearly 500 runs in six innings for England Lions – including two centuries– as well as claiming 11 wickets with his inimitable brand of off-spin.

“He’s had a really good winter,” agreed Essex’s head coach ahead of a three-week tour that concludes with the Champion County Match against MCC in Galle, Sri Lanka.

The 22-year-old right-hander, who is approaching 4,000 first-class career runs, has kicked on during his month-long spell Down Under and McGrath hopes that continues into the domestic season, which opens with Yorkshire’s visit to Chelmsford on April 19.

McGrath said: “He’s still only young in terms of age but he’s got experience now.

"If you look at his first-class stats, I think he’s played around 70 games already.

"We’re really looking for a big year from him to push his career further on.

“We’ve been really happy with how he’s developed.

"He’s probably not got the numbers on the board that some of the other batters have, but again you’ve got to take into account that he’s been batting predominantly at Chelmsford and the scores have tended to be lower here.

"He’s shown that when he’s got on the flatter wickets abroad he can cash in.

"We saw in some of his innings in the T20 last year that he can be a real match-winner.”

As for his bowling, Lawrence sent down almost 60 overs in Australia with conspicuous success to suggest he could be an important cog in the Essex attack this season.

McGrath said: “It looks with the signings that other counties have made that they’ve gone down the spin route, so we could play on a few turning pitches.

"If that is the case, then to have someone like Dan to back up Simon Harmer could really work in our favour.

“Dan’s got an unusual action, which is a little different for batsmen to get used to.

"There’s that surprise element. He doesn’t bowl as much, especially red-ball, because of Harmy, but when he has bowled for us, he’s been really effective.

"We saw on Finals Day, when there’s a bit of turn in the wicket he is someone who can give batsmen problems.”

With the exception of pace bowler Peter Siddle, who is wrapping up playing commitments back home in Australia, Essex take a full squad to Abu Dhabi.

The first week will be devoted to white-ball cricket with four T20 matches scheduled against UAE teams.

The second week will concentrate on red-ball, leading into a two-day fixture against Somerset, last season’s Specsavers County Championship runners-up.

The 2020 squad, under new captain Tom Westley, shows just one major change following all-rounder Ravi Bopara’s departure to Sussex.

The sizeable hole left in the middle-order will be filled in the Vitality Blast by Australian international Moises Henriques, but the position is up for grabs in the Championship with youngsters like Rishi Patel, Feroze Khushi and Michael Pepper, as well as the experienced Varun Chopra, keen to audition over the next few weeks.

“That’s what pre-season is all about,” said McGrath.

“It’s for them to show the coaches and the captains how they have developed over the winter.

"The first game against Yorkshire isn’t for another six weeks, so they’ve got a long time to put their stamp on that position with performances not just in training but in the practice games as well.”

The champions will be keen to hit the ground running after being thrashed by Hampshire in the opening game 12 months ago, their only defeat in an otherwise unblemished campaign.

“You never want to get too far behind – at one stage we were 40 or 50 points behind Somerset,” said McGrath.

“So we want to try and get on the front foot early on.

"Hopefully we can make a better start but if not, I’d rather start poorly and finish how we did last year because we ended up with two trophies.

"It’s always better to finish well.”