It is difficult to argue that successful Division Two promotion campaigns are composed of many days like this. One or two are permissible, perhaps. There are times in every sports team's life when the toast lands butter side down. Wednesday, however, particularly insofar as Lancashire's batting performance was concerned, was one in which the milk was also curdled and the eggs were bad.
Resuming on 7-1, Lancashire collapsed to 22-4 and 99-6 before eventually being bowled out for 177, giving Essex a 49-run first-innings lead. By the close the visitors were 120 for two, thus extending their advantage to 169 for the loss of Tom Westley, who was bowled by Wayne White for 17 and Rob Quiney, castled by Glen Chapple for 30.
Essex, in other words, are well in control of this game. Alastair Cook is 57 not out and looks in the ominously tranquil form which still scares some Australian bowlers.
"It was a very disappointing day for us, I think," said the Lancashire coach Peter Moores. "We're not out of it yet but we certainly haven't helped our cause. Credit to Essex, they've put us under pressure but there are still two days to go and we've got a chance to come back tomorrow.
In the first session Lancashire's batsmen found the new ball no easier to cope with than had the Essex top order 24 hours earlier. Indeed Glen Chapple's batsmen fared rather worse, subsiding to 22 for four inside 12 overs after the restart.
Karl Brown was the first to depart when he was squared up by Reece Topley and edged a catch to Cook at first slip. Brown was soon joined in the pavilion by Luke Procter, whose clip off his legs was excellently caught by short leg Jaik Mickelburgh off David Masters.
Both Brown and Procter made nought and Lancashire's travails in the first hour were completed when Ashwell Prince was lbw to Masters for 14, the South African playing across the line of a straight ball.
Simon Katich and Steven Croft oversaw a brief period of reconstruction and had taken the score to 60 when Sajid Mahmood claimed his first wicket on his return to Emirates Old Trafford when he had Katich lbw to a full length ball for 23
Lancashire's pre-lunch misery was completed when Steven Croft, having made 31, was beaten for pace and bounce by Graham Napier just before lunch and edged a catch to the keeper.
"Credit to Essex, they used the new ball well," said Moores. "It was a mixture of a couple of really good balls and a couple of shots where players may think that they could have done better. It put us under pressure. The goal was to see off the new ball and go on and get a decent first innings lead. We didn't do that so we're going to have to play very well in the second innings."
Wayne White followed his colleagues back to the pavilion four overs after the resumption when he attempted to pull out of a hook off Napier but only skied the ball to cover where Pettini took a most straightforward catch to leave Lancashire on 115 for seven
Through much of this period Gareth Cross had been batting with the restraint and commonsense he had shown in Lancashire's previous match at Colwyn Bay and his partnership with Kyle Hogg yielded another 44 runs.
However, the introduction of slow left-armer Tim Phillips precipitated the end of the innings as the last three wickets fell to the spinner. Cross, on 45, was lbw attempting to sweep, Hogg failed to keep an off drive down and Chapple was caught at slip to end an innings in which precious few home batsmen had enhanced their reputations.
"To lose the wickets to Phillips at the end was really disappointing but I thought Gareth Cross played really well and I thought Kyle Hogg was really composed,"said Moores. "Gareth has played well in the last two innings and it's very important that he does. At No7 you have to play with a batter on some occasions and pick the tempo up with the tail on others. What I've liked about his last two innings is that he's been calm and measured and he's taken the sting out of the game."
Essex bowled and fielded well throughout the day. Phillips finished with three for 20 while Napier, Masters and Topley collected two wickets apiece.
Photo: Glen Chapple bowls to Alastair Cook (c) Simon Pendrigh