Essex 368 for 8 (Lawrence 123, ten Doeschate 86, Foster 54, Klein 4-84) lead Leicestershire 238 by 130 runs
If it is in adversity that a player can most accurately be judged, Essex have unearthed another gem in Dan Lawrence.
Watching from the other end as his side subsided to 68 for 5 - the follow-on not averted and promotion hopes receding - Lawrence contributed a serene, chanceless century against a strong seam attack on a wicket where few other batsmen have looked comfortable. It would have been an impressive effort from any player. From a 19-year-old, it was exceptional.
There is more than a hint of Alastair Cook about Lawrence. It is not just his precocious achievements - Lawrence's polished century against Surrey in just his second Championship game made him (aged 17 years and 290 days) Essex's youngest centurion and the third youngest in the history of the Championship - but his ability to concentrate for long periods and complement his obvious flair with discipline and patience.
There were some fine strokes in this innings; not least the flowing drive off Richard Jones to reach his third century of the campaign (no Essex batsman has made more) and the fourth of his career. But it was more his ability to defend and leave the moving ball that marked him out as a special talent. Like Cook, he oozes Test match temperament.
He shared in two century stands - 125 for the sixth wicket and 130 for the seventh - turning a probable first innings deficit into an imposing lead. And he helped secure four batting bonus points that looked mighty unlikely in the morning.
There will, as ever, be a temptation to mitigate this success with the disclaimer that it came against Division Two bowling. It is, to a degree, a fair point, too.
But this has been a high quality game and this is a good Leicestershire attack. While Dieter Klein tired noticeably during the day - you might say he deKleined - he generated good pace in his early spells (he had 3 for 14 at one stage), has a quick bouncer and a dangerous, swinging full ball that accounted for Cook on the first evening and Nick Browne from the first delivery of the day.
Jones generates movement at a good pace - it really is a mystery that he has not enjoyed more sustained success - while Ben Raine is the sort of nagging, disciplined seamer that captains love. Charlie Shreck, meanwhile, produced such a beautiful delivery to account for Ravi Bopara - the ball swung late, beat the outside edge and clipped the top of off stump - that there was a temptation to have a cigarette after it.
Lawrence has shown an ability to read the situation that bodes well for his future, too. While at Cheltenham he reached his century from 162 balls, here he understood that the game was in the balance and he needed to see his side through a tough period. He took 144 balls to reach his 50, the ball moving in the air and off the pitch, and 226 to reach three figures as the sun quickened a slow surface and drained the attack.
It was his captain, Ryan ten Doeschate, who produced the most fluent batting of the day. While all other have batsmen in this match have struggled to score at a rate of 50-runs per 100 balls, ten Doescahte made 86 from 83 deliveries. If he had a little fortune early on - in ducking a Shreck bouncer, he was fortunate that the ball struck the back of the bat and sped to the boundary - he put away the poor ball sweetly and ran swiftly between the wickets. He missed out on the century he deserved when he was drawn into pushing at one outside off stump and edged to the keeper.
While James Foster was cautious initially - his first boundary came from his 59th ball and, until then, he had scored just 12 - he accelerated against a tired attack and the second new ball and left Leicestershire looking visibly frustrated and weary in the field.
They are not out of this match, though. If the used surface deteriorates, as they hope, in the fourth innings, Essex could yet find themselves batting last with a tricky chase. But the extra overs bowled in the first innings may show in the legs of the Leicestershire bowlers in the second and the absence of a spinner is far from ideal.
Meanwhile Essex announced that Jesse Ryder, their overseas player, has been released from the remainder of his contract and allowed to return to New Zealand without delay. While Ryder has contributed some outstanding innings in white-ball cricket this season, he suffered a calf injury that prevented him from playing four-day cricket in recent weeks.
In truth, Ryder's three-year spell with Essex has been at least as notable for his gentle swing bowling as his batting. Making use of the green surfaces that were prevalent in county cricket for a couple of years, he claimed 92 first-class wickets at an average of 24.71 for the club. With the bat he averaged 36.53. The improved pitches this season limited his effectiveness with the ball and, as a consequence, he took only one Championship wicket. It seems unlikely that he will return.
Essex do have plans for further recruitment, though. As well as Varun Chopra, already secured from Warwickshire, the club has spoken to Mohammad Amir, with a view to him fulfilling the role of overseas player from late June next year. Rumours also persist that Adam Wheater may one day return from Hampshire. Foster, as he has shown in this game, remains a high-quality player but, now aged 36, he hopes to combine his playing career with his future in education next year.