Chapple puts Lancashire back on track

Lancashire 218 & 327-7;

Essex 208
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This was more like a title-challenging performance. As thin as the start to Lancashire's second innings was - they lost their first three wickets in the opening five overs - their middle order provided the stuffing they had so badly lacked first time around.

Leading the way was their much underrated, overlooked all-rounder Glen Chapple with an excellent hundred to help Lancashire to a 337-run lead. He was preceded by chunky contributions from Mark Chil-ton and Carl Hooper, and as proof that this team bats pretty much all the way down (eight of them have made first-class hundreds) Chris Scho-field got into the thirties for the second time in the match.

But it was Chapple who ensured that Essex will have a mountain of runs to pile up today if they are to wrest victory from third-placed Lanc-ashire. Chapple had two cent- uries to his name coming into this game: his first, off 27 balls against Glamorgan in 1993, was a set-up; but there was nothing wrong with his second, against Somerset two years ago, or indeed his third here.

His 181-ball effort wiped out the horror of an appalling start which had seen Essex's paceman Scott Brant take a wicket in each of his first three overs. Jamie Haynes and Stuart Law were caught behind and in between Mal Loye failed to get his bat out of the way in time, playing on to his stumps. Graeme Swann did not last much longer, but Chilton, who had scored three centuries in his last five Championship innings, got his head down.

Hooper, at his relaxed best, treated the crowd to some toothsome shots, including two sixes off James Middlebrook, although when he had reached 50 for the second time in three innings, he was brilliantly caught at backward point by Paul Grayson to give the off-spinner some satisfaction after the fourth wicket had put on 79.

Chapple joined Chilton in another stand of 79 before the latter thin-edged to James Foster. Lancashire were now in charge. Essex were given little to cheer, just the odd error, like a wickedly difficult chance when Chapple, on 17, slammed a return ball high to Middlebrook's left, and the missed stumping of Warren Hegg late in the day, but otherwise nothing. Except the prospect of a hard day's labour today.