Seamers catch Bopara cold but Essex rally to maintain control

Essex 307 & 155-4 Lancashire 184
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It may be of small consolation to Lancashire in a match in which they have been running second to Essex at every stage but they at least made a favourable impression on England batsman Ravi Bopara.

After missing the first part of this contest to attend the Downing Street reception for England's Twenty20 world champions, Bopara played his first Championship innings of the season yesterday and made hard work of it.

He took almost an hour to score five runs before steering a catch to first slip from a stroke played without much conviction to a short, wide ball from pace bowler Daren Powell.

Paul Grayson, the Essex coach, admitted that Bopara, after his stint in the Indian Premier League and his minor role in England's Caribbean triumph, was "a bit rusty" in terms of his readiness for four-day cricket but that the batsman had left the field with nothing but praise for the Lancashire attack.

"He said it was one of the best spells of county bowling he has faced," Grayson said. "That's why we wanted to play First Division cricket, to face the likes of [Glen] Chapple and [Sajid] Mahmood. Powell and [Kyle] Hogg also bowled well and Ravi said he never had a bad ball all morning."

There was a suspicion that Bopara was not as ready as he might have been when he strode out to the middle without a sweater, seemingly oblivious to the sharp drop in temperature. He realised the error of his ways before he had faced a ball, signalling to the players' balcony to send extra layers.

Hogg and Mahmood had been mean from the start, giving away only 20 between them in the first dozen overs. It was by bowling with discipline on a fairly lifeless pitch that Essex had dismissed the home side for 184 on day two. Now Lancashire had to find ways to stop Essex adding too substantially to their overnight lead of 149, mindful that facing Danish Kaneria in the fourth innings will be a challenge.

Hogg made a breakthrough when he had Chris Wright caught behind and the loss of Bopara left Essex 72-3 at lunch. A window seemed to open for Lancashire when a brilliant piece of fielding by Steven Croft ran out Jaik Mickleburgh just after lunch. Some aggressive hitting by Ryan ten Doeschate put Essex back in the ascendancy, however. Rain from 3pm onwards robbed the match of significant overs yesterday but if they can score quickly this morning Essex will take a chance on bowling Lancashire out.