Essex 182 and 263 for 8 (Wheater 81, ten Doeschate 55) lead Durham 99 (Cook 4-38, Porter 3-27, Siddle 3-29) by 346 runs
Anticipation of happiness can be half the fun. For Durham's put-upon members it may have been rather more than half. They had waited for 611 days to see their side in action again and before lunch on the 612th they had been rolled for 99. "If I wanted a 99 I'd have bought an ice cream," said one old lad to his mate, although as he appeared to be double masked it would have been a bit of a palaver to eat it.
There had not been much cause for optimism when Durham resumed at 58 for 6 in response to Essex's 182, and they were duly polished off in another 14 overs. Essex's strength might owe much to the oft-celebrated offspin of Simon Harmer, but in Jamie Porter, Sam Cook and Peter Siddle they have a seam attack that can outbowl most opponents in helpful conditions and they have done that here.
Day 613 is unlikely to be much brighter for Durham, although at least the start of a predicted heatwave will allow spectators to soak up their punishment in comfort. Essex closed the second day 346 ahead with two second-innings wickets remaining and, although the excessive seam movement and low bounce of the opening day appears to have largely abated, Durham would need to pull off a record chase to win the game.
That advantage owes much to Adam Wheater and Ryan ten Doeschate, who batted with considerable vim after Essex had lost half their side for 53 and had briefly invited Durham's hopes that they could claw back a first-innings deficit of 83.
Neither batsman had much to invite optimism as far as their season's stats were concerned. Wheater's only half-century in eight goes came in the first game of the season; ten Doeschate could point to two in nine. But both were busy from the outset, cutting and pulling vigorously, as they turned the game in a sixth-wicket stand of 125 in 32 overs. Brydon Carse dropped short and wide most often, leaked 15 in his first over and disappeared at five an over.
The recovery felt very much from the traditional Essex songbook with a match grasped by virtue of an enterprising counter-attack, just the sort of approach that typified them when they first came to prominence 40 years ago. If Dan Lawrence spends the summer with England they look a quality batsman short of retaining their title and will need several more forays of this type before the summer is out.
They also have a pressing need for this win. It would take them 19 points clear of Durham, but one or both of Warwickshire and Nottinghamshire, who are contesting a close match at Edgbaston, would also remain in range. And Essex, critically, will have only two matches left after this round whilst all their closest challengers have three.
The lbw count was up to 12 by the time Essex began their second innings and Durham's innings had ended with Chris Rushworth playing a perfect defensive shot against a Porter delivery which crept under his bat and scudded into his shin.
By lunch, that tally of lbws was up to 14, Nick Browne and Tom Westley both undone, and Rushworth had bowled Alastair Cook with one that left him. A lunch score of 15 for 3 in 10 overs demanded a more enterprising approach, but Michael Pepper and Paul Walter flared only briefly before falling in successive overs and it was left to ten Doeschate and Wheater to pick up their cue.
Ten Doeschate became lbw no 15 when he failed to turn Carse to leg, but Wheater was closing in on his 13th first-class century when he ran himself out for 81, driving Scott Borthwick to mid-on and left inches short by an excellent pick up and throw from Matty Potts.
David Hopps writes on county cricket for ESPNcricinfo @davidkhopps