Darren Bicknell, playing his first Championship match since September 1997, started the collapse when he skied an ambitious lofted drive to mid-off in Peter Such's arm-loosening first over. No sooner had he unfastened his pads and hit the rewind button than he was evicted from the critics chair by the next dismissal. In fact the queue for the remote control fooled onlookers into thinking that a preview of the new Star Wars movie was being shown at "Odeon Oval".
At 116 for 7, and the dangerous Alistair Brown following the freshly trodden path back to the pavilion, Surrey looked down and out, before a spirited innings by Alex Tudor gave them a glimmer of hope. But however many they need to score in the fourth innings, they will have to show a great deal more application than yesterday if they are to win.
Although Essex were flattered by the sudden collapse, they did at least adhere strictly to the basics and bowled a good line and length. A grey, overcast day provided perfect conditions for swing bowling but apart from the persevering Mark Ilott there was little penetration, the others proving the merits of bowling one side of the wicket and a disciplined length.
It was a salutary lesson for the Surrey pacemen who, on Friday, had helped Paul Prichard to a century by insisting on bowling short.
In fact, the best batting of the day came at the very end when Surrey's last-wicket pair of Martin Bicknell and Rupesh Amin added 33 runs that might yet turn out to be vital. Rarely will Bicknell be afforded the respect that Ronnie Irani gave him when he bowled with a sweeper out on both square boundaries.
Admittedly the sun had emerged, taking any venom out of the wicket but it was desperately negative tactics from a man who believes himself to be an international all-rounder and prides himself on the aggressiveness of his cricket.
Possibly Essex are lacking belief but it is inconceivable that an Australian or South African side would have let an opposition off the hook so readily.
Surrey will still fancy their chances of winning this game. Essex were not wooden spoonists last year without reason and there remains a question mark over their passion and desire to scrap hard to save, or win, a game.Reuse content