Essex 262 and 261 (Finch 4-38, Virdi 4-85) lead Surrey 187 (Jacks 70, Harmer 6-67, Porter 4-53) and 27 for 1 by 310 runs
Essex's batsmen failed to convert starts into half-centuries but their combined efforts set Surrey 337 to win their Bob Willis Trophy contest. Sir Alastair Cook, Tom Westley, Varun Chopra, Paul Walter and Adam Wheater all scored between 33 and 46 to help Essex push on in the match but not add to their personal fifty tallies.
Surrey's bowlers toiled away in 33-degree heat at the Cloudfm County Ground, Chelmsford, and Amar Virdi and Worcestershire loanee Adam Finch were eventually rewarded for their graft with four-fors - 4 for 85 and 4 for 38 respectively.
Having bowled Essex out for 261, Surrey batted out 16 evening overs, for the loss of Mark Stoneman - with a further 310 runs required from the final day.
Essex paid tribute to much-loved lifelong member Peter Meggs, who passed away on Sunday. The players wore black armbands, the club flag was lowered to half-mast and two Essex tops were draped over chairs on the boundary edge, one had his name printed on it and the other "bowling Napes" - a catchphrase of Meggs during Graham Napier's time at the club.
Unrelatedly, a cardboard cut-out of legendary wicketkeeper James Foster watched over proceedings from the top tier of the Tom Pearce Stand - a special request from Alastair Cook.
Foster, who spent 18 seasons in the Essex first-team before retiring in 2018, would likely have been happy with his old side's efforts to capitalise on a first-innings advantage of 77.
Nick Browne was a rare exception in the batting line-up as he departed for 4 in the third over of the morning - the opener tentatively edged Finch behind to wicketkeeper Jamie Smith.
Cook and Westley put on 47 together, with former England captain drove and cut nicely as he matched his first innings score of 42.
But he couldn't better it as he was lbw to debutant Gus Atkinson - a memorable wicket for the 22-year-old who didn't bowl during the 2019 season due to injury.
Westley had endured a tricky start to batting since becoming Essex's red ball captain, with scores of 13, 0 and 10. He seemed to have shaken off the pressures with a confident 34 before he clipped Virdi around the corner to Scott Borthwick at leg slip.
Rikki Clarke hadn't bowled in the morning session, having slung down 23 overs in the first two days, but struck with just his third delivery when he was introduced after lunch. Feroze Khushi was his victim, as the first innings fifty-maker was drawn into an inviting full-pitched ball, only to edge to Ryan Patel at second slip.
Varun Chopra, who had collected 36 runs with Westley, took the batting baton and added a further 45 with Paul Walter before he diverted Finch to Patel at point.
Walter, playing in his 11th first-class match since signing a professional contract in 2016, has found himself as the heir apparent to the currently injured Ryan ten Doeschate's No.6 spot - despite formerly being seen primarily as a left-arm fast bowler. Having scored a useful 33 in the first dig, Walter proved his high-quality all-round capabilities with a patiently made 46.
But on the brink of a second career 50 he was bowled by off-spinner Virdi, having played his part in a 42-run stand with Adam Wheater, who kept things ticking with Simon Harmer and Aaron Beard, accumulating 28 and 18 with them, before fast bowler Finch and Virdi ripped through the tail.
Harmer was lbw to the impressive Virdi, before Finch had Wheater caught by Borthwick and pinned Sam Cook. Virdi then wrapped up the innings when Beard was caught behind - the last three wickets falling in seven balls.
Stoneman and Patel eased through Porter and Sam Cook's new ball before being tested by Harmer - who struck with the final ball of the day when the former was trapped leg before.
Meanwhile, Surrey announced that fast bowler Conor McKerr would miss the rest of the season due to a tear in the cartilage of his right knee - for which he will undergo an operation on Thursday.