Essex 25 for 1 trail Hampshire 525 for 8 dec (Northeast 169, Dawson 64) by 500 runs
Sam Northeast has not given up on finally earning an England call-up and his towering 169 for Hampshire against Essex would have done his chances no harm ahead of a huge summer of international cricket.
At 29, Northeast has not featured in the England system since U-19 level - apart from briefly representing the Lions in the Caribbean a year ago. But, while extremely humble and level-headed about his prospects of representing his country, as with most players, the lure of higher honours is undeniable.
"It's sort of just in the back of the mind, you've got to always have that goal, it keeps you going," Northeast said. "But the most important thing is just to score runs for Hampshire.
"If anything comes down the line, that would be a bonus but it's just nice to score runs and nice to get off to a good season."
Resuming on his overnight score of 94, Northeast needed just four balls to bring up his 22nd first-class century and second since joining Hampshire from Kent before the start of last season.
He bettered his previous best for Hampshire of 129, scored against Surrey a year ago before a finger injury hampered his debut season for the county in which he played 10 matches and averaged 25.05.
"It was a strange year in many ways last year but I feel a lot more settled this year and hopefully it's going to be a great year for me and the club," Northeast said.
"It's just important in any season to get up and running and it's nice to score a big hundred early and hopefully that gives me a bit of confidence to go on and have a big summer, but the important thing is it set us up quite nicely in this game.
"Nineteen wickets isn't going to be easy but hopefully we can make early inroads tomorrow and get in a winning position."
Northeast had hinted at his good form by scoring 118 against Oxford University in a pre-season warm-up and on the real stage he was flawless. He brought up his 150 with a boundary off Simon Harmer and on the next ball delivered a fifth bonus points as Hampshire reached the 400-mark.
England World Cup hopeful Liam Dawson brought up his half-century moments later as he and Northeast pressed on towards a record fifth-wicket partnership for Hampshire against Essex of 165.
It was Ravi Bopara who broke it when he hit Northeast on the pads with the last ball before lunch. Northeast faced 255 balls for his score, which included 23 fours and a six, as he anchored an innings in which four batsmen passed fifty.
Dawson reached 64 before Matt Quinn was rewarded for some tough toil with his wicket, caught behind by stand-in wicketkeeper Will Buttleman, replacing Adam Wheater, who injured his thumb on the opening day and is expected to be out for six weeks.
Dawson made his ODI debut against Pakistan in 2016 and played just two more during England's tour of Sri Lanka last October before being ruled out with a side strain but some handy T20 performances in Bangladesh and Pakistan, along with his latest knock on English soil, cannot have hurt his chances of selection for the World Cup.
At the end of the first day's play, Hampshire's feeling was that 450 would be a good first-innings total on this flat pitch. They more than achieved their aim, thanks largely to Northeast and Dawson building on some fine work by James Vince, Aiden Markram and Rilee Rossouw on the opening day.
Alastair Cook, playing his first Championship match since retiring from international cricket and receiving a knighthood, caught Tom Alsop off the bowling of Harmer for 24, although the former England captain then dropped Gareth Berg on 20.
That small blemish mattered little with Bopara holding onto a catch at deep square leg to dismiss Berg for 33 off Harmer and Hampshire immediately declared at 525 for 8.
Fidel Edwards, Hampshire's leading wicket-taker last season, made an early breakthrough in the fourth over of the Essex innings when he bowled Nick Browne for 1, but Cook and Tom Westley saw their way to an early close due to bad light.