Rain suits Essex fine against determined Lancashire

Essex 115 for 4 trail Lancashire 290 (Hameed 88, Porter 5-73) by 175 runs

A slow day, it will be labelled, but Essex will not care. A grey day, too, people may say but that will not trouble the leaders either. The forecast rain did not arrive until tea time but by then Essex had reduced their first-innings deficit to 175 and it is hard to see how Lancashire can win this game if they are not able to enforce the follow-on. The sight of the shower-soaked white tarpaulins billowing in the breeze as they sought to escape the groundstaff's control will not have dismayed Varun Chopra's team one jot. When play was abandoned they still led their nearest rivals by 36 points and a draw will suit them fine.

These are the seemingly unremarkable days which nevertheless go a long way towards deciding titles. They are the recitatives between the arias of individual accomplishment or the choruses of team effort that make the County Championship so memorable Replying to Lancashire's 290, the very warm favourites for the title scored 115 runs for the loss of four prime wickets, the last of them being that of Ravi Bopara who was caught at slip by Liam Livingstone off Stephen Parry on the stroke of tea. Before lunch, though, Lancastrian hopes had been raised by the fall of two early wickets: Nick Browne was bowled by Ryan McLaren for 6 when not playing a stroke and Dan Lawrence taken low down by Dane Vilas at slip off the same bowler for 12.

But in the afternoon session Chopra and Bopara added a vital 57 runs in 25 overs during which the ball lost its hardness and batting became a rather more manageable task. The venom was drawn from the Lancashire attack, although not before Chopra was leg before for 40 when playing across a full-length ball from Tom Bailey. Late in the session the umpires decreed that only spinners could be used because the light was deteriorating. That compulsion brought Lancashire the wicket of Bopara but the clouds had been gathering from the west well before the second interval and there was little surprise that no more play was possible.

The first hour of the day's play had shown why Lancashire have acquitted themselves well in red-ball cricket this season albeit that the session had begun with an anti-climax. Having resolved to sell his wicket very dearly on what was effectively the first day of this game Haseeb Hameed found he did not have a price in the sixth over of the second morning when pinned by a back of a length ball from James Porter which kept low in the sixth over of the morning. He had added only three runs to his overnight 85 but he departed to a warm round of applause, some of it presumably coming from folk who had only seen him bat on this third morning.

Still, though, Lancashire batting was not done. Tom Bailey seems to have copied Shivnarine Chanderpaul's stance but not his caution and he made 34 not out in a last-wicket stand of 57 with Kyle Jarvis. The last man's contribution to this fun was 26 and the home spectators' entertainment was only ended when Jarvis lost his leg stump to Simon Harmer the ball after he had hit the offspinner for a straight six. That left Lancashire with two batting bonus points and their last three wickets had doubled their score. Porter finished with 5 for 73 and should have something more substantial to toast in a couple of weeks' time.