It was a bad day to lose the toss. In high heat and on a thankless pitch, which will come to take spin increasingly, the Hampshire bowlers plugged away resigned to the inevitability of it all as an unending stream of boundaries flowed from the Essex batsmen, three of whom reached centuries.
Essex have not had much of a year in the Championship, having lost nine matches and won three, but winning the toss at the delightful Castle Park has put them on the way to their fourth victory. It is now up to their spinners, Peter Such and John Childs.
Graham Gooch, in his familiar white helmet, set off at a spanking pace, scoring the first 27 runs of the day. His fourth four, a drive through extra cover off Heath Streak, took him past 1,000 for the season for the 19th time.
Usually, by the time the Colchester week comes round, Gooch is within reach of 2,000 runs, but this year he has had an unusually lean patch in the middle of the summer. Now, to the great delight of a crowd of around 3,000, he produced all his best strokes and showed that on his day he is still as good, if not better, than anyone in England.
His progress from 88 to 100 was the most painstaking part of his innings and in one big marquee produced a severe case of ''century stops lunch''. Lay and Wheeler, a main Essex sponsor one of whose managers is David East, the former Essex wicketkeeper, ordered their guests out of the marquee to watch the arrival of the 100, which delayed their next course by a good 40 minutes.
After Gooch had been lbw playing no stroke at Richard Dibden, a 20-year- old off-spinner who like his off-spinning colleague, Shaun Udal, would have preferred to bowl later in the match, Nasser Hussain, like Gooch, made his fourth hundred of the season.
He played some delightful strokes on both sides of the wicket and kept his concentration to make sure that he did not miss out. Gooch was second out at 225, at which point Mark Waugh joined Hussain and immediately realised 100 was there for the taking.
The ball continued to race to the boundary over the fast outfield and there was almost a surfeit of strokeplay as the batsmen gorged themselves. The 400 came up with 15 overs left and Waugh's 100, the quickest of the three, arrived in 127 balls to Gooch's 150 and Hussain's 225.