Essex put themselves in pole position to secure the Pro40 Division One title with an easy 31-run over bottom side Lancashire at Chelmsford.
In front of a good crowd, Essex made a poor start, losing both openers inside eight balls, but Andy Bichel led the recovery with 41 and found good support from Andy Flower and Ryan ten Doeschate. The crucial innings, however, came from James Foster who made 67 off 62 balls at the end to boost his side to 233 for 7.
Lancashire started brightly, with Mal Loye cracking a 63-ball 71 out of 105 for 2 as they moved well ahead of the asking rate. But his dismissal changed the course of the match as Tim Phillips (5 for 34) ripped the heart out of Lancashire's middle order, and Bichel weighed in with 3 for 33. Foster added to his heroics with the bat by pulling off two sharp stumpings as well as holding two catches.
Essex now need to beat Durham at the Riverside on September 17 to secure the trophy, and even they slip up there, Sussex need to win their final match to deprive them of the crown. Lancashire - without a victory in six outings - need to win both their remaining games to have a realistic chance of staying up.