An absorbing first session of Championship cricket was followed by frustration for both sides on the third day of Lancashire's match with Essex as rain prevented any play in either the afternoon or evening.
When the players adjourned for tiffin Essex had taken their overnight 120 for two to 203 for three, a lead of 252 with seven wickets in hand, and an intriguing fourth day remains in prospect.
The highlight of the morning for Lancashire supporters came when Essex had added just 12 more runs and the England skipper Alastair Cook edged a fine lifting delivery from Kyle Hogg to wicketkeeper Gareth Cross.
Cook had made a classy 60 but his dismissal did not spark a collapse. Instead, Jaik Mickleburgh and Mark Pettini made light of the reverse and had added an unbroken 71 runs for the fourth wicket by lunch. Both batsmen played competently against an accurate Lancashire attack.
Slow left-armer Stephen Parry, playing his first County Championship match since 2009, bowled a high-quality 13-over spell which cost just 29 runs and ensured that the Essex pair could not score at will.
"I didn't realise it was nearly four years since my last game and it's been really good to play some good four-day cricket," said Parry. "It doesn't seem like four years because I still feel about 18. Obviously I've progressed in that time but I haven't changed what I do massively. I've just got more consistent and better at making it hard for the batsmen to score.
"I was really happy with the way I bowled in the first innings and in the second I just needed to restrict the batters to two or three runs an over and to strike a balance between getting wickets and not going for too may runs. It was cat and mouse and really good fun this morning."
Despite Parry's efforts, the Lancashire bowlers could not prevent Mickleburgh reaching his first Championship fifty of the sason, which he achieved with a back foot push for two off Wayne White. The Essex batsman reached his landmark off 143 balls with four boundaries.
With one day left in the match both sides will need good weather to give them a chance of forcing a win. Essex might believe that an enterprising declaration will pay dividends against a Lancashire batting order which is perhaps lacking in confidence, although Glen Chapple's players will take confidence from last week's remarkable victory against Glamorgan.
The Red Rose players will also remember that both Simon Katich and Ashwell Prince have proved themselves capable of scoring quickly at Old Trafford this season. The wicket being used for this match offers encouragement to both batsmen and bowlers and, given good weather, another fascinating Friday is in prospect.
"It was set up today for a good day but if we get a couple of early wickets tomorrow, we're still right in the game," said Parry. "If we can pin Essex back a little bit, the ball will be in their court as to what they want to do and how ambitious they want to be to try and win the game. It is starting to spin a little bit more but it's also hard to get people out once they're set."
Photo: Kyle Hogg celebrates taking the wicket of Alastair Cook (c) Simon Pendrigh