Mills finally fires for Essex
Derbyshire 154 and 167 for 5 (Chanderpaul 41*, Mills 3-29) need a further 199 runs to beat Essex 94 and 425 (Cook 181, Foster 55*)
There were no England selectors in Chelmsford but reports of Tymal Mills performance will likely have reached the interested parties. The left-arm quick, whose searing pace at times seems to frazzle his own synapses, claimed 3 for 29 to push Essex closer to a hard-fought victory in their opening Championship match of the season.
In the first innings, Derbyshire's last five wickets fell for 13 runs and Essex will be favourites to complete the job on the final day having set a testing target of 366. Shivnarine Chanderpaul, cricket's equivalent of a roadblock, was unbeaten on 41 at the close but the home bowlers will prepare to veer around him again. The first session and a half of the match aside, when they were bowled out for 94, Essex have performed with the skill and bite to match the abundant talent in their squad.
If Alastair Cook, who extended his stay to 181 from 335 balls in a little over seven hours, is very much England present, then conceivably it was England past and future who were central to Essex's efforts with the ball. Monty Panesar may still have an international career to resurrect, while Mills has amassed an army of boosters who would like to give him a Mitchell Johnson wig and stick-on moustache and they provided the main threat as Derbyshire fought to stay in the game.
Panesar made the first incision, when Stephen Moore toe-ended a pull low to midwicket, but he needed a talking to from the umpires after seeming to direct a few words towards Billy Godleman at the non-striker's end. Panesar was last season given a suspended ban for "potentially threatening and intimidating" behaviour during a match on loan for Essex against Worcestershire and, if he is to remain in England contention, would prefer the scrutiny to be on his bowling.
There was a tangible edge to proceedings, with Godleman the subject of much chatter from his former team-mates, before Mills made the ball do the talking. He had Wayne Madsen caught off the glove down the leg side via a brute of a lifter and then pinned Godleman lbw during a seven-over spell that straddled the tea break. He returned to trap Chesney Hughes lbw as well, following a well-directed short ball with one that was pitched up, though the low bounce and some ponderous footwork took their share of the credit.
It is almost a contractual obligation to refer to Mills as raw and undeniably there is a capacity for the erratic. One delivery, way down the leg side to Chanderpaul, managed to bounce two or three times before reaching James Foster, while Wes Durston was greeted by a throat-high beamer first ball. However, his losses of control were the exception rather than the norm and his pace tested everyone at the crease, with Chanderpaul lucky to survive a hurried pull to mid-on that Graham Napier couldn't quite get his hands underneath.
"That's probably the best I've seen him bowl in the Championship for us," Foster said. "He bowled very quick, very hostile, got the ball to move in the air. He was very aggressive and that's what Tymal Mills is all about. He's an exceptional talent and I'm really pleased for him because he has worked his backside off."
Derbyshire had already made use of the heavy roller before their first innings - each team can do so only once, providing the home side has made it available, under the new rules - and the presence of some rough outside the right-handers' off stump for Panesar to aim at from the River End along with a little variable bounce should provide enough encouragement for Essex. Foster admitted his side were "in the pound seats" but was cautious of calling a game that has seen several shifts in momentum.
Fifteen wickets fell on the first day and the first two innings only required 101 overs to be bowled. Cook outlasted that on his own second time around, as the flat pitch Keith Fletcher had spied from his perch in the third umpire's box finally rolled over to have its tummy tickled. It was a day for ice cream and sun cream, while Cook continued on in a manner that for Essex and England was all peaches and cream.
Having scored his first hundred in five months - and only his second since May last year - Cook resumed his innings with the intent of a man returning for the fourth and fifth course at dinner after popping out for a cigar. Stretching back to the previous evening, he managed to go 27 overs without scoring a boundary, during which time he progressed from 127 to 152. Reasoning that there was plenty of room left in the game and accompanied by the coltish Ben Foakes and an ever-busy Foster, Cook continued to hoard time in the middle.
Should his new daughter have any trouble sleeping, a video of one of Cook's longer knocks, however invaluable, might do the trick. A top-edged sweep off Durston before lunch hinted at a desire for greater productivity, however, and he was dismissed by the spin of David Wainwright two balls after the interval, playing across the line and getting a leading edge back to the bowler.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick