Yorkshire take control and lead
Yorkshire 312 (Lyth 67, Rafiq 53, Napier 5-65) and 44 for 3 lead Essex 177 (ten Doeschate 62, Ashraf 4-36) by 179 runs
Like a long-distance runner hitting the front on the last lap, Yorkshire may well have timed their race to perfection. Midway through the second day of this match, they moved to the top of the Division Two table for the first time this season and, with only two days left of the campaign, look overwhelming favourites to gain promotion.
The simple fact is this: if Yorkshire win, they will be promoted. Indeed, unless Kent win, and they look most unlikely to avoid defeat against Glamorgan, Yorkshire will be promoted even if they lose this match.
It would be a worthy success. Not only are Yorkshire the only unbeaten side in either division, but they have lost more overs than any team to poor weather. They have several fine, young players who could go on to contribute to the success of club and country and, on the evidence of this game, they look some way ahead of the chasing pack.
The result may well prove to be irrelevant but, as one of their coterie of young players, Azeem Rafiq, explained, Yorkshire want to make a statement about their revival after the disappointment of relegation 12 months ago.
"We want to win because we want to be promoted as champions," Rafiq said. "We feel we're the best side in the league and we should be a long way ahead. We've had some bad luck with weather and we've let some situations slip. But I'm delighted with how this season has gone and I'm happy to be part of a successful team. Things have improved very quickly."
Rafiq has played a large role in this game. Having extended his overnight innings to record his first half-century of the season and help secure his side a third batting bonus point, he then claimed three top-order wickets with his impressive offspin. Tom Westley was beaten by Rafiq's first delivery, one that drifted past the forward prod to beat the batsman on the outside edge, before Owais Shah's attempt to skip down the wicket was defeated when Rafiq pushed the ball wider and saw the stranded batsman poke weakly to slip. Ryan ten Doeschate's enterprising stay was ended when he attempted to clear the boundary but instead picked out the man at deep midwicket.
The moment they reached the top of the table was not atypical of this match as a whole. Adam Wheater, who had been batting quite steadily, suddenly launched into a pull shot that was as unnecessary as it was ugly. The resulting top-edge spooned to mid-on and another Essex batsman had surrendered his wicket through a lack of application.
That is not to say Yorkshire did not bowl well. They surely have the best attack in this division and each of their three main seamers performed admirably here. Steven Patterson, as consistent and demanding as ever, defeated Jaik Mickelburgh with one that crept between bat and pad and later dismissed James Foster with another that nipped back.
But perhaps Moin Ashraf was the pick of the seamers. He cut through Essex's tail in a spell of three wickets for four runs in 29 balls, demonstrating an excellent yorker and an action that may, as he develops and strengthens, bring him an extra yard of pace. Aged only 20, he surely has a bright future.
The only time Essex looked likely to set a decent first innings score was when ten Doeschate and Foster were together. While Foster took 48 balls to reach double-figures, ten Doeschate twice drove Rafiq for six over the short boundary at the River End of the ground and dominated the 63-run partnership.
Essex only passed the follow-on target of 163 thanks to an unlikely last-wicket stand of 29, but Rafiq felt it was unlikely that Yorkshire would have enforced it anyway. "You don't want to be batting last on that pitch," he said. "We're a bit disappointed with some soft wickets in our second innings, but if they chase 300 on that pitch, we don't deserve to go up."
It is true that Yorkshire's batsmen failed to capitalise on the situation when they started their second innings. Joe Root turned a leg-stump half volley into the hands of midwicket, Phil Jaques was smartly taken at slip having been drawn into a drive and Andrew Gale drove loosely to point. But the lead is already 179 and against an Essex team with little to fight for, it would be a major surprise if they were beaten now.
The only other moment of concern for Yorkshire - and perhaps England - came when Root appeared to be hurt in the field. He sustained a crunching blow to the right forearm in diving to intercept a fierce ten Doeschate drive and, despite his obvious pain, he remained on the pitch for the rest of the innings and opened the batting as normal. They breed them tough in Yorkshire.
Earlier Graham Napier claimed the final two wickets in Yorkshire's first innings to claim his second five-wicket haul of the season and the seventh of his career. With all three second-innings wickets having fallen to him, he has a decent chance of claiming the first 10-wicket haul of his career on day three.
But there have been few moments of cheer for Essex in this game. Indeed, it summed up the Essex performance when the day was abandoned seven overs early due to floodlight failure.