Essex 164 (Cook 50, Edwards 5-51) and 132 for 4 (Bopara 60*) trail Hampshire 525 for 8 dec by 229 runs
Taking five-wicket hauls never gets old and neither, it seems, does Fidel Edwards. Edwards' 5 for 51 off 14.3 overs in Essex's first innings was the 24th first-class bag of five for the 37-year-old and put Hampshire on track for a comprehensive victory going into the final day at the Ageas Bowl.
He tore through the Essex line-up - their only real resistance coming in the form of Alastair Cook's 50 and an unbeaten 37 from Ravi Bopara, who ran out of partners before going on to reach an unbeaten half-century in the second innings, where Cook managed just 8.
Edwards, who played the last of his 55 Tests for West Indies in 2012, didn't stop there, claiming another victim in the second innings to give him 6 for 73 for the match so far.
"My rhythm was pretty good so once my rhythm is good I'm pretty happy," Edwards said.
Keith Barker, recruited during the off-season from Warwickshire, and Kyle Abbott provided excellent back-up as Essex were bowled out for a first-innings 164 and Hampshire enforced the follow-on with the deficit still 361 runs. Essex still needed 229 with six wickets in hand to avert an innings defeat when bad light stopped play late in the evening session.
To say Edwards wound back the clock would be unfair, given that he was Hampshire's leading wicket-taker last season with 54 at 26.72. It would be more accurate to note that his ageless performance against Essex suggests he could very well end up on top of the rankings again, his devastating pace befuddling a succession of batsmen and helping rearrange the stumps on four occasions.
Edwards, who has signed a red-ball-only contract with Hampshire this year, said a restful off-season helped him return feeling fresh.
"I just enjoy my cricket and keep doing what I've got to do to keep performing out in the middle," Edwards said. "I had got a lot more rest and got more chance to strengthen my body after playing all the games last season. I said, 'I'm going to take a good break and come back stronger again.'
"I'm not one to bowl for myself. I try to do what the team needs. If the team needs me to run in and bowl as fast as possible, that's my job. I don't think about my age or whatnot. My aim is to bowl fast and continue taking wickets."
With Edwards having bowled opener Nick Browne with a yorker on day two, Abbott produced an early wicket maiden on day three to dismiss Tom Westley for 16. Cook brought up his 50 by pulling Abbott to the boundary but, four balls later the same bowler had Cook caught by James Vince at short midwicket without adding to his score.
Edwards bowled Dan Lawrence for 31 and then, with consecutive balls, dismissed Ryan ten Doeschate lbw for and Simon Harmer with a gem of a ball that uprooted middle and leg stumps.
Barker then chimed in with two lbw dismissals to account for Jamie Porter and Sam Cook before Edwards finished the job by sending Matt Quinn's middle stump tumbling end-over-end with Essex wicketkeeper Adam Wheater unable to bat after injuring his hand on day one.
Six wicketkeepers have been used in this match, with Lawrence standing in for Wheater before Will Buttleman took over on the second day and Hampshire captain James Vince taking the gloves until Lewis McManus arrived at the ground after Tom Alsop injured his hand during the third morning.
It was McManus who caught Alastair Cook in the second innings off the bowling of Abbott after Barker had dismissed Browne lbw. When Abbott had Lawrence out lbw a short time later, Essex were in all sorts of trouble at 27 for 3 in the second innings, still trailing by 334 runs.
McManus also caught Westley off the bowling of Edwards after he and Bopara had managed to stem the flow of second-innings wickets for a while. Bopara ended the day not out 60 and with a daunting task ahead of him and his team-mates.