Essex 150 and 313 (Foster 69, Mennie 3-47) lead Lancashire 144 (Porter 5-26, Harmer 5-46) by 319 runs

Batting at this time of year in England is often a frisky business, as can be ascertained by a quick glance at scorecards from around the country (with the honourable exception of Grace Road). Eighteen wickets fell on the first day at Chelmsford, and another two followed in short order, but thereafter Essex showed some grit worthy of their status as Division One champions to leave the visitors looking at a hefty fourth-innings chase.

Essex managed to pass 200, somewhat fretfully, and then 300 with increasing panache as James Foster became the first batsman in the match to record a half-century. A few days on from his 38th birthday - and six months after briefly contemplating retirement following Essex's surprise title win - he was fox-like and tenacious as ever with the bat in hand, even if (whisper it) a couple of sharp stumpings had passed him by on the first day.

Foster appeared set to be emulated by Simon Harmer, the Kolpak cult hero who was awarded his county cap at lunch after completing his first five-for of the season in the morning. The eighth-wicket partnership between Foster and Harmer, worth 103 in 25 overs, came late in the day and left Lancashire flagging. Harmer brought up 300 with a thump for four of Graham Onions, was promptly dropped at second slip from the next ball, before becoming the second Essex batsman to be out on 49.

Although the pitch seemed to have eased a little, Essex will likely feel confident they have enough in the bank; Lancashire, having been dismissed for scores of 158, 73 and 144 so far this season, have a sizeable task on their hands if they are not to head back north with two defeats from two.

For two-and-a-half hours during the afternoon, there was a growing sense that Tom Westley might be about to make a mark - both on the game and in a slim field of England candidates looking to impress the new national selector, Ed Smith. But Westley chipped wastefully to extra cover for 49 off the bowling of leggie Matt Parkinson - who might claim some credit for deception having served up a few full tosses - and rapped his pads in frustration before walking off.

While the glorious weather again suggested a good batting day, the surface has been receptive throughout. What Essex would have given to be able to deploy Alastair Cook for a couple of sessions of barnacle immovability and steady accumulation. "He needs the practice," opined one of the locals, down by the River End before play got started; but Cook has been rested by England for the first two rounds, and few in the game now seem to possess his reserves of patience.

Foster remains invigorated by the challenge of first-class cricket, however, chivvying and hustling valuable extra runs. When Ryan ten Doeschate was pinned lbw by Onions, the ball keeping a touch low, Essex's lead was 180 but that swelled quickly during the evening session.

Until Foster took charge, the most fluent passage of the day came when Westley and Ravi Bopara were adding 57 for the fourth wicket - although the fact they ran two off an overthrow as Lancashire were unsuccessfully appealing for lbw against Bopara tells you something about the nature of play. A slow outfield continued to hamper run-scoring, but Westley did unfurl one trademark whip through the leg side for four, like the first ice cream of the summer - good enough to stick a flake in.

It was a case of "sun's out, guns out" in the morning, and Lancashire were soon all out, too, Jamie Porter and Harmer wrapping up five-wicket hauls apiece in the first nine balls of the day. That gave Essex a slender first-innings lead, which had seemed unlikely when they were 113 for 9 on Friday.

With batting bonus points out of the equation, Essex went in search of bonus runs. Varun Chopra, who also received his county cap some 12 years after making his Essex debut, cracked 28 of his 32 in boundaries during an opening stand of 48 - the second-highest in Division One to date - before comprehensively losing his off stump to Onions. Nick Browne and Dan Lawrence were both then sent on their way after disputed low catches but there was little argument about who was on top by the close.