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Essex 193 (Snater 79*, Sanderson 4-24) and 328 for 9 (Walter 93) drew with Northamptonshire 390 (Procter 113, Berg 75, Young 63)
Paul Walter fell agonisingly seven runs shy of a maiden first-class century, and three runs short of his career-best, though his mercurial 93 ensured Essex held on to save both the game and face against Northamptonshire.
The tall left-hander anchored Essex's second innings for five and a half hours before he was undone by a delivery from occasional bowler Saif Zaib that spun past his half-cock forward defensive.
But his good work was carried on, though without the same panache, by Adam Wheater who used up 174 balls of the day's allocation while scoring just 33 runs. In the end Wheater was still there to accept the handshake of Northampton captain Ricardo Vasconcelos on the draw just after five o'clock.
Off-spinner Rob Keogh wheeled away relentlessly for 33 overs to claim 4 for 51, supported by seamer Tom Taylor who charged in to return figures of 3 for 62. But their joint efforts were in vain.
Northamptonshire had enforced the follow-on at lunch-time on day three after racking up a 197-run lead on first innings. But they were unable to make the inroads they were hoping for on the final morning and they enjoyed only sporadic success thereafter.
With Walter leading the rearguard action, Essex lost just two wickets before lunch while moving into a position where Northamptonshire would have needed to bat again.
Essex batted out the final five sessions of the match, showing greatly improved application among their middle-order than in the first innings when they collapsed to 83 for 8. They were rescued then by a Shane Snater-inspired tail-end insurgence that took their total to 193 in reply to Northamptonshire's 390.
On a docile pitch offering little assistance to the bowlers, the overnight pair of Critchley and Walter reached the century milestone for the fourth wicket without undue alarm. Immediately, though, Critchley chased a wide delivery from Tom Taylor and spooned to short mid-off for 47.
Walter, whose top score remains his 96 against Gloucestershire last summer, was particularly strong off his legs. One flick to the long-leg boundary off Gareth Berg took Essex into the black for the first time in the game, 82 overs into their second innings.
Feroze Khushi joined Walter in a free-scoring, 69-run stand that was ended when a delivery from Taylor leapt off a length and Khushi was caught behind for 30.
When Walter departed after a 246-ball stay as the sixth man down, Essex's lead was just 67 with a minimum of 54 overs remaining. But Wheater dug in doggedly, batting all the way through the afternoon session while facing 100 balls and adding just 16 to his personal account.
But he lost Simon Harmer after 16 overs' joint resistance when the South African all-rounder steered Keogh into first slip's hands. Keogh claimed a third wicket when Snater swept injudiciously to Zaib stationed just inside the midwicket boundary. The lead had now become 107 with 27 possible overs left.
With six men around the bat, Mark Steketee thumped Keogh back for two boundaries but was then beaten outside his attempted defensive fend-off by the off-spinner. It just remained for Wheater and Same Cook to see out three overs for one run before curtains were drawn.
Essex escape with face-saving draw as Paul Walter's 93 anchors rearguard
Northants unable to capitalise on enforced follow-on as spinners are thwarted
Shane Snater keeps Essex in the game with career-best 79*
Walter, Critchley stage belligerent rearguard following on to frustrate Northamptonshire
Ben Sanderson blasts gaping hole in fragile Essex batting
Four quick wickets allow Northants to capitalise on ninth-wicket stand of 105 between Luke Procter and Gareth Berg