Grayson lauds 'gifted' Ryder
Worcestershire 84 and 113 for 2 (Moeen 70*) trail Essex 431 (Ryder 120*, Browne 118) by 243 runs
Essex may not be able to celebrate promotion at the end of this match but Chelmsford basked in another Jesse Ryder masterclass that looks likely to set up victory and Paul Grayson's side will close the campaign believing that they have found the formula to do so next year. Such confidence was bolstered by Ryder agreeing a contract for the next two seasons. His a run-a-ball hundred, following a five-wicket haul on the first day, capped an increasingly impressive season in which he has become a local favourite.
Ryder was given a rapturous reception as the news that he would be returning was announced at lunch, coupled with the presentation of his county cap. In a sometimes turbulent career, Ryder has been called a lot of things: he might just take "honorary Essex boy".
Grayson is in no doubt as to his value. "He's been great. He's a super lad and he's one of the most naturally gifted cricketers I've worked with," he said. "Some would say we took a little bit of a risk when we signed him and we probably did. But we felt we could work with him and it's been great.
"He's got more wickets than we could ever have imagined, he's bowled brilliantly and everyone at the club is delighted he's signed a two-year deal. We look forward to him coming back next year and making a serious challenge for some silverware next year.
"He came with a bit of baggage, a bit of history and some people have said to me 'You've done well, you've tamed the beast'. But he's just been brilliant, he loves playing cricket. He loves county cricket, the format of playing, training, travelling because back in New Zealand there's quite a lot of time between games so he may get some distractions. But he's enjoyed the routine of county cricket."
He has certainly not shirked the workload. Having finished unbeaten on 120, Ryder shook himself loose and opened the bowling, as he did in the first innings, picking up the first wicket to fall. Monty Panesar removed Daryl Mitchell with his fourth ball - and thought he should have had Moeen Ali caught behind too - but Moeen crafted silky resistance to leave Worcestershire 243 in arrears at the close.
But even as Ryder was picking up speed with the bat, like a biker hitting the open road on his Hog, bandana fluttering in the wind, Essex's chances of promotion were diminishing with each Glamorgan wicket to fall in Cardiff. They succeeded in collecting three batting points, thanks to a doughty 71-run stand between Ryder and David Masters, which means Hampshire must win (assuming Essex do). That looks increasingly likely, barring something nasty blowing in off the Bristol Channel.
Ryder's innings, his second hundred for Essex, was supremely controlled, even as Worcestershire mustered something of a fightback in the morning session. Steve Rhodes, Worcestershire's director of cricket, had indicated his dissatisfaction with the pitch, which he said "maybe needs addressing", but after Essex lost 4 for 44 to a combination of spin and the new ball, Ryder proved that there was little to fear.
Tony Pigott, the pitch inspector, was still in situ and he continued to monitor how the surface behaved, particularly the dry, dusty ends. Moeen extracted some turn and bounce but his first wicket of the morning came from one that went straight on to clip off stump as Nick Browne, Essex's first day centurion, attempted to leave. Pigott later passed the pitch on the grounds that the assistance for seam on the first morning and any spin thereafter was not "excessive".
Brett D'Oliveira, playing his first Championship match in two years, collected a maiden first-class wicket when winning an lbw decision against James Foster and Essex were 268 for 7 when Charlie Morris struck in consecutive overs. After a heavy shower had put back the start, it seemed Essex's promotion push was getting a little soggy.
They found the required fibre in Masters, who lugubriously blocked his way to 18 from 86 balls and helped Essex past the 300 mark, in the process denying Worcestershire a third bowling point for the first time this year. Worcestershire's strength with the ball goes deeper than Saeed Ajmal's presence for the first half of the season, having taking maximum bowling points from the previous 26 games, stretching back to Leicestershire's visit to New Road in May 2013.
Panesar then provided a final flourish by matching Ryder in a 76-run stand in 10 overs. Ryder had already carted a Joe Leach long hop into the crowd and he hit D'Oliveira and Morris for further sixes; having reached 50 from 70 balls, he struck 70 more from his next 47. D'Oliveira's 17 deliveries to Ryder were cashed in for 36 runs.
Panesar was approaching the 40s for what would have been only the second time in his career when he bludgeoned Jack Shantry into the hands of a diving Alexei Kervezee in the deep. With the crowd standing to applaud, Panesar sheepishly raised his bat. Ryder would do the same when he walked off unbeaten. A couple of pukka characters bringing late-season joy to their adopted home.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick