Essex fightback could be too late
Essex 166 for 2 (Westley 90*, Walker 50*) trail Derbyshire 474 (Rogers 222) by 308 runs
It is looking increasingly unlikely that the successful promotion candidate will come from the County Ground despite Essex enjoying a strong revival. The visitors, who have second place in their own hands, left themselves in such a hole after a poor bowling display on the opening day that even a Danish Kaneria hat-trick and Tom Westley's unbeaten 90 still leaves them much ground to claw back.
They remain in a position where a 19-point (or greater) victory would put them in Division One, but after Derbyshire reached 474 they face a huge task to secure that win. Their best chance is to get reasonably close with their first innings - and Westley's innings means there is still a chance, with the follow-on 159 runs away - and hope that Kaneria can spin out the home side to set up a late run chase. Once Northamptonshire beat Leicestershire, as they could do tomorrow, Derbyshire's interests in promotion are gone.
It will need more of what Kaneria managed shortly before lunch. First he bowled Greg Smith round his legs with one that spun from the footmarks - his 800th first-class wicket - then had Graham Wagg leg before as he swept. The hat-trick ball went straight on as Jon Clare lunged forward with his bat hidden and Richard Kettleborough, the umpire, had little problem giving Kaneria the first three in three of his career.
This pitch, though, does not have result written all over it despite the strong green tinge. Derbyshire bowled significantly better than Essex, but still had just two wickets to show for their efforts. They both came during an impressive six-over opening burst from Wagg. John Maunders pushed at one that moved away to be well caught at second slip and Alastair Cook got into an awkward position against a back-of-a-length ball that he gloved to the wicketkeeper.
The way Cook was squared up as he tried to turn the ball away suggested there is still work to do after a tough Ashes series. He can expect a pounding against South Africa, where Dale Steyn and Wayne Parnell will propel the ball at far greater speed than Wagg. Wagg, though, was very impressive and barely bowled a bad ball in his first spell that cost five runs.
Westley, playing here because Ravi Bopara is on England duty, saw off the early movement with his highest score of the season alongside the experience of Matt Walker. Westley was occasionally troubled by some swing - he twice edged Wavell Hinds through third man - but he played impressively straight for much of the innings. His previous best is 93 not out against Derbyshire last season, when he declined the chance of a hundred against declaration bowling, but now has an opportunity to register one that could really matter.
And, if Westley does reach three figures, he should learn from the effort of Chris Rogers who began the day with 204 to his name with a chance to surpass George Davidson's Derbyshire record of 274 which has stood since 1896. However, after moving to 222 Rogers failed to control a cover drive off Graham Napier and picked out deep cover.
The Essex bowling improved from a limp performance on the opening day, but there was too much ground to be made up. John Sadler edged the hardworking David Masters to first slip, where Walker held a juggling catch, but a curious passage of play then developed as the home side appeared content to bat time.
Hinds, not usually shy of playing his shots, left anything outside off stump and added just one further boundary to his overnight tally. It appeared as though Derbyshire were aiming to deny Essex an extra bowling point before the 120-over cut-off, but with four balls remaining Masters produced a good one to take out Hinds' off stump. Although unlikely, those little moments could yet be vital.
James Pipe was given a life, on 5, by his opposite number when James Foster went one-handed for a catch to his right that he would expect to take with ease. Then in the final over before lunch wickets fell in a hurry as Kaneria claimed Essex's first hat-trick since 2005. However, it still looks to have come too late.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo