Both of these clubs should be contemplating a serious challenge for promotion but if either are to progress then they will have to improve greatly.
Not that much of the cricket or individual effort was bad. In contrast the almost unrecognisably svelte Lance Klusener reminded all and sundry of his abilities with bat and ball, David Sales scored another big hundred and Alastair Cook, the coming man for England - sooner rather than later if Marcus Trescothick's struggles continue - added a century to his first-innings 88.
Some things, however, were conspicuous by their absence. Essex desperately need support bowlers for the willing Darren Gough, whose opening five overs contained thought, fury, pace but no wickets. Northamptonshire need a spirit of adventure.
Having safely negotiated the early thrust by Essex and ensured they were not bowled out, Klusener and Sales steadily increased the run-rate before the big-hitting left hander was leg before moments before lunch. A quick thrash for a few overs after the break to make the target around 330 in two sessions would have then provided a stern test of Essex's resolve and technique, as well as offering Monty Panesar an opportunity to show his development from a winter with England, but caution dominated as Sales batted on for an undefeated 157 before declaring. The target? An improbable, draw-inducing 381 in 53 overs.
What was on offer then was the intriguing spectacle of Panesar bowling to Cook. The winner, and a quite handsome one, was Cook, although there were a couple of moral victories for the left-arm spinner to remember. The first actually came off his second delivery when Cook tried to whip the ball through straight midwicket but succeeded only in edging it on to his pad but beyond the despairing reach of silly-point. The next came with Cook on 70 when he was deceived by the length and was lucky not to be bowled. In between was a master class of offside stroke play, both behind and in front of square and very importantly, off either foot.
Cook's style is based on discipline and incredible self-restraint. Even past his hundred he calmly watched wide balls pass harmlessly to the wicket-keeper, neither tempted nor inclined to play them. He is much more than workmanlike and yet cannot be described as pretty. He mightily effective though.