Wheater and Foster set up Essex
Northamptonshire 99 and 37 for 1 v Essex 183 and 331 for 9 dec
Adam Wheater's maiden century for Essex and the 15th of James Foster's first-class career left leaders Northamptonshire facing a daunting victory target of 416 in their Championship Division Two match at Chelmsford.
After establishing a first-innings lead of 84, Essex amassed 331 for 9 declared in their second and then claimed a wicket before the close as the visitors reached 37 for 1 at stumps.
Wheater, aged 21, showed just why he is regarded as one of the county's most exciting prospects. He went into the match having scored half-centuries in the three previous Championship games, and from the start he punished pace and spin alike with a succession of thrilling strokes as he plundered 164.
He completed his century from 95 deliveries and scored 122 in the session between lunch and tea during which time 197 were added. His partnership with Foster produced 253 in 44 overs, beating the previous county record for the sixth wicket by 47 runs, before Wheater hit a full toss from medium paceman Jack Brooks to Andrew Hall at short mid-wicket. Wheater struck 18 fours and four sixes in an innings spanning 143 balls and within minutes of his dismissal, Foster posted his century.
Foster's superb effort of 103 came off 155 deliveries but was ended when he drove Brooks to Stephen Peters in the covers, at which point he declared. Brooks finished with four for 58 and off-spinner James Middlebrook three for 85.
Northamptonshire were put further on the back foot when, in the first over and without a run on the board, Peters was bowled by David Masters. It signalled an unhappy homecoming for the former Essex player because his dismissal saw him bag a pair.
The visitors did manage to steer clear of further trouble before the close but it will need something spectacular on the third day if they are to preserve their unbeaten record.
Earlier, Northamptonshire added a further 20 runs after resuming on 79 for seven. All the remaining wickets were claimed by 17-year-old paceman Reece Topley as he finished with 4 for 36 from 15.4 overs. Masters returned 4 for 28 while Matt Walker picked up the other two wickets.