Essex 106 for 0 (Cook 64*) trail Middlesex 246 (Eskinazi 66, Malan 60, Stirling 77, Harmer 5-77) by 140 runs
There are days when cricket slams a door in the face of its most devoted admirers and there are days when that same door is kept ajar, tantalising folk with the possibility of play. And so they gathered in the Felsted School and Tom Pearce stands this Tuesday afternoon and evening, teased by the breaks in the weather and whiling away summer with their friends. In its way, the latter diversion was as important as the possibility of cricket.
Play was due to start at two o'clock and then again at 4.25. On each occasion the rain set in a few minutes before the umpires were due to go out and the small crowd lapsed back into the Janus-faced allure of prospects and memories. Flasked and tupperwared, they waited. Even some of the oldsters read their mobile phones. Timings were juggled as people tried to work out when play might be abandoned on a day when cricket could continue until a scheduled latest close of 9.30. The floodlights were turned off around six o'clock and we waited for Messrs Hartley and Millns to decide that hope could be turned off, too.
By 6.50 the umpires had had enough and everybody began to think about the shape of a three-day game. Come Wednesday afternoon Essex will resume on 106 for 0 and with a freshly pressing need to get a wriggle on and build the sort of lead which will allow them to pressurise Middlesex on the final day. For Chris Silverwood, Essex's quietly-spoken and impressive head coach, the dynamics of the game have changed.
"I still think the game's in a good position but we have to bat well tomorrow and we have to get a full day's cricket in," he said. "If we can bat once and bat long then who knows, so the first order of the day is to score as many runs as we can, pick up as many bonus points as possible and see where the game goes from there. We're sitting at the top of the league and it's for other people to catch us. If we can press the button, we will but Middlesex might bowl well and make life very difficult for us and we have to accept that."
Yet even on this grey June evening as the commuters hurried home down New London Road towards Ingatestone and Margaretting, Silverwood's thoughts could be turned back towards the development of a side capable of winning promotion in 2016 and then "making their presence felt" this summer.
"We're always watching what other teams are doing but we will continue to approach our cricket in exactly the same way," he said. "There's a lot that can happen and I told the team this morning that there is no room for complacency. We have to follow the same process."
That process began for Silverwood and his coaches a year last November when the players reported back for pre-season training and plans for Essex's resurgence were put into place.
"What we've done has got us in a great position and it will continue to do so," he said. "I'm not right fussed who our rivals are. It's about what we do and how we conduct us selves. There are no bad teams in Division One, even though some are having harder times than others. You have to treat everybody like your rival.
"We've not changed what we've done from last year. We've just got better at it. The players believe in the process and believe in themselves. At the start of last year we started playing the type of cricket that we want to play now. We're not going to say we're going to win it but we're here to make our presence felt. And if we do that, who knows?"