Hampshire 246 and 83 for 1 (Carberry 49*) lead Essex 285 (Bopara 79, Ryder 69) by 44 runs

An unproductive start to the season has left Essex playing catch-up with little margin for error and they missed a golden opportunity to put Hampshire under significant pressure at Colchester.

In a bid to mount a late promotion push time is not on Essex's side, either in this game or the season. Indeed, their purposeful game plan has been born as much out of necessity than choice but the urgency in which they've attempted to corner Hampshire has had an element of desperation about it.

They slipped from 187 for 2 to 285 all out, a lead of just 39, and barring disintegration by the visitors on the final day, Essex's window of opportunity has been firmly shut, if not bolted closed.

There was a point in which it was ajar, however. Another masterly alliance between Ravi Bopara and Jesse Ryder - during which they both scored vastly contrasting fifties - had Hampshire toiling but the hosts' hopes of forging a sizable, and possibly decisive, advantage withered in the afternoon heat in a slapdash display of batting.

Bopara, however, remains a class apart. If his career had taken a different route, he may well have been in London preparing for the second Test but instead continues to score an abundance of runs for Essex, no matter the format. This is not the batsman that is labelled as a 'finisher' when in England apparel or the one that is deemed too inept against the red ball. For the second time in as many weeks, he dropped anchor and constructed a platform for his side.

Batting at the fall of the first wicket upon his return to the county circuit, Bopara has adopted a wholly contrasting mindset to the one we are used to seeing him operate in. While at the other end Ryder moved the scoreboard on at a brisk rate, Bopara remained patiently watchful outside his off stump, not taking any undue risks. Indeed, in compiling another chanceless half-century, he moved within one run of the 600 mark this campaign.

But, credit must go to Jimmy Adams' side for sticking to their task. They well aware that a draw here is enough for them to consolidate their position in the promotion berths and all but end their opponents' aspirations. Instead of pressing for early rewards, Adams played the waiting game and it duly paid dividends.

His spinners operated in tandem for much of the afternoon session with little luck but the dynamic of the game changed drastically when James Tomlinson was handed the new ball. He brought one back into Bopara's pads for 79 and then had James Foster brilliantly caught by Liam Dawson at second slip.

There was no such conservatism though when Hampshire wasted little time in eradicating Essex's slender lead. Michael Carberry faced 36 balls without scoring yesterday but was not going to die by the same sword second time around as he punched and flicked three boundaries in the first over. Three more glorious timed cover drives followed and he moved to within a couple of a half-century with successive sixes off Monty Panesar that had the stewards foraging in the Castle Park vegetation.

Panesar had enjoyed some batting stunts of his own. As his side were being made to pay for their needless profligacy in throwing wickets and their position of supremacy away, Panesar danced down the pitch to Dawson and clubbed his fellow left-armer over the scoreboard. A brief cameo alongside Tim Phillips prompted the revellers in hospitality to emerge from their grazing but failed to mask the fact Essex had missed the boat.

Ryder bothers little in varying his style against the red ball and after a barren run with the bat, has hit his straps in recent weeks. He took a particular liking to Dawson before lunch, bludgeoning him for two sixes which had those square of the wicket ducking for cover but fell attempting to dish out more punishment as Danny Briggs was rewarded for his perseverance.

Ryan ten Doeschate tamely looped Briggs to point and Nathan Rimmington collected two wickets of his own as the lower order came and went without much of a whimper. If Hampshire avoid such recklessness tomorrow morning they are safe.