Gloucs glass Fuller after late strikes
Essex 30 for 2 (Fuller 2-22) trail Gloucestershire 409 for 5 dec (Housego 150, Marshall 149) by 379 runs
Gloucestershire put themselves on the path to redemption after two wickets late on the second day gave them control at Chelmsford after they had declared their first innings on 409.
Last year, in the opening fixture on this ground, they were humiliated by an innings and 38 runs - the first of six defeats that saw them finish bottom of the County Championship. The same fixture to open this season gave them an immediate chance to exorcise that ghost.
They have done it before. In 2011, a seven-wicket victory at home to Derbyshire in the first match of the season put right one of the worst defeats in their modern history the year before. Chasing 125 to beat Derbyshire at Bristol they were skittled for 70; contriving to lose having bowled Derbyshire out for 44 on the first morning.
That defeat saw the team gradually unravel. Over the next two winters Steve Kirby, Jon Lewis and Chris Taylor, a core of what was a competitive side, left the club owing to financial pressures and wanting to play at the highest level. The county dropped to arguably the lowest ebb in their history.
But 2013 could be a year for them to begin an upward curve. The director of cricket, John Bracewell, has demanded improvement, saying inexperience is no longer an excuse for his side, and the first two days of this fixture have demonstrated the talent that exists in their squad.
They haven't seen enough of the Hamish Marshall that made 149 here - his third-highest score in England. But a move down to No. 5 may benefit his flourishing strokeplay. Dan Housego managed a run better - his highest first-class score - and looks capable of providing stability at the top of the order, so lacking in recent seasons.
In James Fuller they have a genuine strike bowler. He bowled a few loose balls on the pads but swung the new ball and bowled with pace to first beat Rob Quiney's defensive stroke on the crease and then draw Ben Foakes into a loose drive outside off. They were important breakthroughs. Gloucestershire will have to seize every moment they get on the field for the rest of the match, with such a concerning weather forecast.
They did seize the moment with the bat when play finally got going at 3.10pm, with the floodlights just keeping the gloomy skies at bay.
Marshall and Housego were busy and very alert to any chance of a single - Marshall almost pushed his luck too far taking on mid-off. They added 41 in the first 10 overs, most of which came off Maurice Chambers. Mediocre on day one, he was awful on day two, bowling both sides of the wicket and conceding 22 in three overs and dropping a sharp return catch offered by Marshall.
One shy of his 150, Marshall uppercut Tymal Mills to third man having added a dashing 29 to his overnight score. But Housego doesn't seem much of a dasher and his concentration continued; a big stride forward and roll through point for a single to bring up the landmark indicative of his work. A positive declaration soon followed but Gloucestershire sent down only seven of the 18 overs that remained owing to bad light.
It was curious that David Masters only bowled an additional two overs having conceding just two runs. Perhaps James Foster needs the game to move along too.
Alex Winter is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo