For a jaw-dropping 40 minutes after tea here yesterday there seemed every chance that one of first-class cricket's major records would fall as Essex pace bowlers Jonathan Dakin and Scott Brant reduced Nottinghamshire to the extraordinary score of eight for seven.
As word spread, statisticians around the country delved into their archives to establish where Nottinghamshire's catastrophic demise might figure in the game's history of low scores.
With the ball swinging lavishly, no Nottinghamshire batsman appeared to have a clue how to survive as both Dakin and the impressive Zimbabwe-born Brant pitched the ball up to them.
After Guy Welton edged Brant to the wicketkeeper, Dakin dismissed Jason Gallian, caught at first slip, and Kevin Pietersen, comprehensively bowled, with successive deliveries. Brant, a left-armer seemingly able to release toe-threatening inswingers at will, then trapped Bilal Shafayat leg before and Dakin put himself on the brink of a hat-trick for the second time as Usman Afzaal and Wayne Noon succumbed to consecutive balls.
When Brant maintained Essex's astonishing progress by yorking Greg Smith to send the seventh wicket tumbling, it did appear that history might be made.
The principal record under threat was the lowest first-class innings total of 12, shared by Oxford University (1877, versus MCC and Ground at Oxford) and Northamptonshire (1907, v Gloucestershire at Gloucester). Nottinghamshire's own lowest total - 13 against Yorkshire at Nottingham in 1901 - also seemed a sound bet. This was avoided when Brant, missing Nadeem Malik's leg stump by a coat of varnish, unluckily conceded four byes and somehow Malik and Chris Cairns managed at least to lighten the shade of red faces on the home balcony by scrambling to 15 before another wicket fell.
But then Cairns was leg before to another gem from Brant and Andrew Harris, having sliced four wide of slips, lost his leg stump to the same bowler. At 19-9, Nottinghamshire were still on the verge of missing their 1904 second lowest total of 34 against Warwickshire.
Astoundingly, however, Essex could not finish the job. In Brant's next over, Malik hit five consecutive fours transforming the total to 40-9.
More abandon produced more profit, Stuart MacGill pulling a four off Brant which enabled Nottinghamshire to avoid the follow-on. He celebrated with an enormous six over midwicket.
By the time MacGill at last skied one to mid-wicket, the last pair had added an unlikely 60 runs. Brant, having threatened to enter his name in the list of best analyses, finished with a relatively ordinary 6-45, although it was a career best.
Ironically, there had been rumblings about the quality of the pitch earlier in the day as Essex, having won the toss, crashed to 115-8 before Dakin and Graham Napier put on 88 for the ninth wicket.
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