Leicestershire 372 and 148 for 3 (Sarwan 61*) lead Essex 409 (Foakes 93, White 5-74) by 111 runs
Essex teenager Ben Foakes narrowly missed out on a century on Championship debut as the Division Two game against Leicestershire was left finely balanced at the end of the third day at Grace Road.
Foakes, 19, made an eye-catching 93 to help Essex to a total of 409 and a first-innings lead of 37. But with Ramnaresh Sarwan making his second half-century of the match, Leicestershire closed on 148 for 3 to lead by 111 runs going into the final day. Sarwan was still there on 61.
Foakes, an England U-19 international who was handed his debut in the absence of both Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara, became one of five victims for the Leicestershire seamer Wayne White when he edged behind shortly after lunch.
But Sarwan and Will Jefferson steered the home side back into the game with a third-wicket stand of 97, halted when Jefferson was out for 49 just before the close as bad light and rain brought an early end with 6.2 overs remaining.
Resuming the second day on 239 for 5, still 133 behind, Essex enjoyed a productive first session, adding 121 runs in 32 overs for the loss of just one wicket. The batsman out was James Foster, who received a virtually unplayable rising delivery from Matthew Hoggard and edged behind. His share of a stand of 87 with the impressive Foakes was 26.
Foakes looked untroubled, and cover-drove White to the boundary twice in one over. He reached 50 from 72 balls by on-driving Matthew Hoggard to the ropes for his ninth boundary. He went into lunch on 93 but failed to add to his score after the break, edging a fine delivery from White to wicketkeeper Ned Eckersley in the third over of the afternoon. He hit 14 boundaries and faced 139 balls in an excellent debut performance.
A typically aggressive knock of 35 from Graham Napier kept the scoreboard moving, but White brought the Essex innings to a close with the wickets of David Masters and Charl Willoughby to finish with 5 for 74 - his third five-wicket haul of the season. Wicket-keeper Eckersley also impressed with five catches.
Matt Boyce and Greg Smith went cheaply when Leicestershire batted again, but Sarwan, who reached 50 off 73 balls with seven fours, and Jefferson regained the initiative until Jefferson edged behind off a swinging delivery from Willoughby.