Given that they could barely have a poorer season than the last, the question to be answered by Derbyshire's reconstructed side is: how much better? At the halfway point, promotion is a clear possibility. Yesterday's evidence, however, was inconclusive.
The plus point was an unbeaten century from Travis Birt, their 24-year-old Tasmanian find. It was not flawless - he was dropped on 70 and 85 and had looked fortunate to escape being run out on 34 - but neither was it unprecedented, being his third for the county. The runs took him to 1092 in all competitions.
On the other hand, too many Derbyshire wickets were given away cheaply, undermining what could have been a much stronger position when rain hastened an early close.
Most of the batsmen made the long walk back regretting the shot they had just played, even Michael Di Venuto, whose miscued pull cost him a half-century at least.
Derbyshire will want to make Birt's efforts count, given that he has been summoned to play for Australia A in New Zealand after this match and will not be back until the end of July. Marcus North, from Western Australia, will be his replacement.
Queenslander Andy Bichel made his first Championship appearance in Essex's attack but his contribution was overshadowed by that of Alex Tudor, the former England all-rounder, whose third appearance of the season, following knee surgery, yielded a first four-wicket haul for almost two years.Reuse content