Lancashire 131 for 2 (Hameed 59) trail Essex 396 (Anderson 7-77) by 263 runs
These are the last dregs of summer but for Lancashire, T20 champions and promoted in the Championship, there is time to savour every last drop. Their game against Essex has been a weather-scarred affair and when play was called off early on the third day, the players headed back on to the greasy outfield for a lengthy kickabout. Worrying about the calculations that might yet decide the success of their Division Two title challenge could wait.
Surrey's first-innings demolition of Northamptonshire at The Oval deflated Lancashire spirits in Chelmsford as thoroughly as if a cricket spike had punctured their football. They know that they must pick up at least three batting points - still 169 runs away - and somehow fashion a win on the final day in Chelmsford, while hoping Northamptonshire can stave off defeat. It is not yet beyond them but they might need what regulars at the other Old Trafford used to refer to as "Fergie time".
There is still time for one more game of football, though, and an opportunity to reflect on a season of Red Rose promise. James Anderson may not be exactly one for the future - though he is still eight years younger than his new-ball partner - but he proved he can get better still, achieving his best figures for Lancashire; Haseeb Hameed, the 18-year-old opener who made his debut a month ago, then provided a tantalising glimpse of what may be to come with his second successive half-century.
Hameed is built like a mayfly but, fortunately for an opening batsman, seems to have none of their characteristic impermanence. While Karl Brown, more of a pugnacious sort, batted close to the edge, Hameed studiously assessed each delivery on its way down before deciding whether to unfold his slender arms and triangulate a response.
More than 100 of the 126 balls he faced were dots but, despite the apparent economy of effort, he actually scored at a quicker rate than Brown. Hameed's graceful strokeplay charmed a crowd that knows how to do surly and the cover drive with which he moved to the brink of fifty was met with applause around the ground - though a wristy flick through backward square leg off Graham Napier was equally pleasing.
To watch him bat, as the quietude of a September afternoon was occasionally disturbed by the unmistakable crack of bat on ball, was to be reminded of a famous line from Tom Stoppard's play, The Real Thing: "If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you've done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly."
Time will tell if Hameed is the real thing but there seems little doubt about his talent. Only after he had reached his half-century, a milestone that was clapped by the England captain in the cordon, did he offer up what could have been vaguely presented as a chance, a thick outside edge off Ravi Bopara flying through a vacant third slip.
Naturally there were moments of uncertainty against the new ball but, after missing out on a maiden first-class hundred last week against Surrey, this match, the tension ebbing out of it, seemed to present an ideal opportunity to make good. It was therefore something of a surprise when Alastair Cook again brought his hands together, this time in order to hold on to an edge as Hameed poked indeterminately, for once, at Jesse Ryder's medium pace.
Brown had already departed, after an opening stand worth 66, when he was taken down the leg side off Graham Napier, having previously been dropped at midwicket on 16, by Nick Browne off Ryder. Hameed's dismissal came shortly before tea, which was taken early, initially due to bad light and then because of a heavy rain shower that ultimately put paid to the final session.
Overnight rain had also delayed the start, after which Anderson's first ball was dismissively punched straight back down the ground for four by Napier. Two more boundaries came in the next over, bowled by Glen Chapple, as Essex, unable to catch second-placed Lancashire but unwilling to do them a favour either, added another 66 to their overnight score and kept Anderson persevering until the end. He took all three wickets to fall, putting down Napier's brief revolt the ball after being hit for six, to earn himself a rest. Until it was time for football, that is.
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick