Derbyshire v Essex. Derby, 3rd day May 12, 2011

Bopara hundred gives Essex useful lead

Essex 179 and 282 for 6 v Derbyshire 288

Ravi Bopara sent another strong message to the England selectors with a superb century that put Essex back in the hunt against Derbyshire in the Championship Division Two match at Derby. The all-rounder made another claim for a place in the first Test against Sri Lanka at the end of the month with his second hundred in consecutive first-class games.

Bopara was given strong support from Jaik Mickleburgh, who made 64, and Matt Walker (26) as Essex turned a first-innings deficit of 109 into a lead of 173 at the end of day three. But he fell shortly before the close for 119 and Derbyshire claimed two more wickets to reduce Essex to 282 for 6 and leave the game in the balance.

The hosts had gone into the third day without head of cricket John Morris, who had been sacked the previous night, but in a strong position with the visitors trailing by 85 runs. Alastair Cook and Mickleburgh had survived 10 overs on the second evening and they stayed together for another nine after a brief delay for rain.

Cook had looked set for a big innings on a pitch which was starting to flatten out and it needed a fine catch to remove the England opener. Yorkshire's on-loan off-spinner Azeem Rafiq got a delivery to turn and take the edge of Cook's forward defensive push but Usman Khawaja still had to react sharply at slip to take a diving one-handed catch to his left.

The departure of Cook for 25 was a big breakthrough for the home side who celebrated another wicket before lunch when Mark Pettini aimed a casual flick at Greg Smith and was caught behind down the leg side for 12. At 80 for 2, Essex were still 29 runs adrift and Derbyshire knew they would be well on top if they could get rid of Bopara cheaply.

But the 26-year-old, who will be back at Derby next week for the England Lions game against the Sri Lankans, was soon imposing himself on the bowling and drove Rafiq for six on his way to a 70-ball half-century which also contained five fours. Mickleburgh was content to play the anchor role in a stand of 111 in 34 overs and had batted for nearly four hours when he was lbw to Smith's off-spin for 64.

The opener had played a valuable innings for his team and Walker continued the fightback with Bopara, who reached his third century against Derbyshire when he drove the second new ball through the covers for his 11th four. Bopara hit three more before he carved Tim Groenewald to deep cover, where Ross Whiteley plunged forward to take a good catch. The Essex man was clearly unhappy about the light, which had deteriorated.

Three balls later, it started raining although the skies quickly cleared - and there was still time for Derbyshire to end Walker's two-hour occupation of the crease and remove Adam Wheater with what proved to be the final ball of the day.