Katich ton gives Lancs edge
Lancashire 266 for 7 (Katich 120*, Prince 56) trail Essex 273 by seven runs
Simon Katich scored his first century of the season, and his first for his new club, to guide Lancashire close to Essex's first innings score with wickets in hand.
Lancashire have the luxury of two left-handed batsmen who between them have 122 Test caps and just short of 35,000 first class runs. Ashwell Prince and Katich batted together for 33 overs and put on 110 runs just when the Lancashire innings was looking a little wobbly. The value of their partnership was underlined by the fact that after it ended their side lost five wickets for 57 runs as, while Katich continued on his way, there was a mini-collapse at the other end.
It took little time for Lancashire to finish off the Essex innings in the morning. Glen Chapple had bowled beautifully on the first day with little reward but he mopped up the remaining two wickets for the addition of just five runs.
Luis Reece, making his County Championship debut, lost his opening partner, Luke Procter, early but set off confidently and his 24 runs contained five boundaries. He was undone when Graham Napier entered the attack. He survived a very confident appeal for a catch behind but two balls later there was no doubt when he edged to second slip.
This brought Katich and Prince together, men of contrasting physical stature and batting style. Katich stands tall and straight, and was particularly impressive driving through the off side. The shorter Prince was nimble on his feet and, while looking to get on the front foot, was severe on the short ball. He was missed twice off David Masters, first by Ryan ten Doeschate in the gully, then by Tom Westley at second slip on 49. Off the next ball he survived a huge lbw appeal, then a ball later he had his 50. Masters finally got his man when Prince edged to James Foster.
Once he had gone the Essex bowlers took their chance to make more inroads into the innings, though they did have some help from a couple of the Lancashire batsmen. Andrea Agathangelou was skittled by a ball that stayed a little low, and Steven Croft edged to the wicketkeeper. Gareth Cross and Wayne White's wickets were virtual carbon copies of each other: Reece Topley bowls, the batsman top edges the pull, and Saj Mahmood takes the skier at mid-off.
Katich has previous first-class scores of 84, 93, 65 and 96 this season and looked determined to convert another good start into a century. He went to tea on 66 and in the first over afterwards lofted a drive narrowly over mid-off; it was the only time he looked remotely like being out. His hundred came up off 166 balls with 12 boundaries.
There wasn't quite a full day's worth of play; six overs were lost to bad light. But there is still plenty of time for a result in a match that is very intriguingly poised.