Walker ton leaves Essex in charge
Durham 177 and 31 for 1 v Essex 268 and 367
Essex put themselves in a strong position to bid farewell to Division One on a winning note as they dominated the third day's play against Durham at Chelmsford.
After Matt Walker's first century of the season led them to a second-innings total of 367, the visitors found themselves facing a daunting victory target of 459. When bad light ended play nine overs early, they had progressed to 31 for 1 and it will need bad weather or an extraordinary effort from their batsmen to deny already relegated Essex victory.
The day had started on an encouraging note for Durham after the home side had resumed on 103 for 1, as they captured four wickets while just 17 runs were being added. Among them was that of Alastair Cook, who added only seven to his overnight 61 before falling lbw playing back to left-arm spinner Ian Blackwell.
Either side of Cook's departure, paceman Chris Rushworth removed Jaik Mickleburgh, Mark Pettini and Tom Westley in the space of 13 deliveries at a personal cost of two runs. But any hopes Durham may have entertained of making further quick inroads into the innings were ruined by Walker and captain James Foster.
They seized the initiative with a partnership of 133 in 42 overs before Foster, having made 64, edged a simple catch to Michael Di Venuto at slip to provide leg-spinner Scott Borthwick with success. Walker, quick to pull or cut anything short, went on to make 105 with the help of 16 fours and a six before Dale Benkenstein took a fine catch at extra cover.
By then Tony Palladino was dishing out further punishment to the toiling Durham bowlers as he went on to hit a career best 66 from 61 balls. His aggressive contribution contained 11 fours and a six before he provided Venuto with his third catch of the innings while employing the reverse sweep.
Both Walker and Palladino fell to Blackwell who finished with four for 70 from 23.1 overs. Rushworth also picked up four wickets at a cost of 90 from 20 overs. Palladino then made a quick impact with the new ball by bowling Mark Stoneman for five shortly before bad light ended play.