Last-ditch chase awaits Essex
Derbyshire 474 and 103 for 3 (Rogers 42) lead Essex 356 for 9 dec (Westley 132, Walker 75) by 221 runs
In years gone by the final stages of the Championship season were followed on Ceefax. Now the internet is a focal point or, in the case of this game at Derby, the television and Northamptonshire's players will be utilising whatever methods they can to keep tabs on Essex's progress with their promotion fate out of their hands.
If Essex can somehow come out with a victory against Derbyshire, they will jump back above Northamptonshire and earn promotion. It still remains a long shot, although Danish Kaneria is the one man capable of an incisive enough spell to remove the need for a Derbyshire declaration. The home side will be in a delicate position when it comes to setting a target, which will have to be tough enough to remove any notion of it being too generous.
After Essex passed 300 they had the bonus points required and 14 points for victory would leave them level with Northamptonshire. Both teams would also be level on victories, so the count-back would go to fewest defeats, putting Essex up. They have, though, been second-best in this match since bowling abjectly on the opening day despite being faced with a green pitch. And, with Derbyshire's promotion hopes ended by Northamptonshire's victory, they can't expect any favours but will have no option but to chase whatever they are set.
Ahead by 221 overnight, Derbyshire could feel comfortable leaving something around 350 in two sessions, or they could opt for a bigger target in fewer overs knowing the visitors would have to go down blazing. If Essex chased them, Northamptonshire wouldn't be able to say anything other than 'well played.' After all, it was Essex who began this round in pole position.
Derbyshire weren't in any particular rush after Essex declared at 356 for 9, 118 behind. Wayne Madsen ended an impressive summer with a failure when he edged to slip. Play was briefly interrupted for bad light (now solely at the umpires' discretion) in conditions that were gloomy, but surely not dangerous.
Chris Rogers again battled with considerable ease, adding 42 to his first-innings double century, before pushing forward at Kaneria and edging to slip where Alastair Cook held a sharp catch. Kaneria then accepted a simple return effort from Greg Smith, taking his season tally to 74 wickets in 11 matches. If he'd played a full summer Essex would have been comfortably promoted. As it is, he needs to add a few more to that haul if Essex are to force the issue on the final day or wait and see what Derbyshire leave them.
If Essex have to ultimately contend with the disappointment of missing out, they can at least look at the performance Tom Westley. He eased to his maiden first-class century with a strong pull off Graham Wagg, following that with a sweet back-foot drive and another pull as he continued to impress with a tight technique.
The third-wicket stand with Matt Walker had added 224 when Jon Clare finally made the breakthrough as Walker was sharply held at mid-on by Wavell Hinds from a toe-ended pull. Essex hadn't shown any great desire to push the scoring rate along - despite them being the team desperate to win - and just six more runs had come in six overs when Westley departed, strangled down the leg side, after nearly five hours of concentration, to give the hard-working Steffan Jones his first wicket.
With the last ball before lunch Jones struck again, when Mark Pettini jabbed a edge to first slip and Essex had to ensure they didn't fall short of 300 (the minimum they required to keep promotion alive) and then the follow-on. One run short of a third batting point, James Foster drove to cover and two balls later Graham Napier was athletically caught in front of first slip by Jamie Pipe - an impressive catch during his final first-class match.
The expectation was that once the follow-on had been avoided that Essex would declare to try and set up a run chase, but they batted on to collect a fourth batting point. Kaneria's four-ball innings was entertaining, as he top-edged a bouncer from Wagg (now in spin-mode) and then launched a straight six before carving to cover. The real fun and games, though, could still be to come.
Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo