YORKSHIRE DO not have to delve far into their history to know that miracle comebacks are possible at Chelmsford.
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Last year they won here by 91 runs despite being bowled out for 50 in their first innings in 18.4 overs.
This time, however, they are without England’s Jonny Bairstow, who swung that game with a momentum-changing second innings half-century before a hundred from Harry Brook and a six-wicket haul from Steve Patterson completed the transformation of water into wine.
Now they are staring down the barrel of a defeat that would potentially end their title ambitions as much as it would boost those of their second-placed rivals, who have worked themselves into a commanding position to claim a fifth successive Championship win – and a sixth in seven matches – to maintain the pressure on leaders Somerset.
It is never over until the fat lady sings, as the old cliche goes, but at the halfway stage of this game she was going through her vocal warm-ups with the air of someone who expects to be taking to the stage very soon.
Yorkshire were 38-3 in their second innings, trailing by 82, and something even more dramatic than the Miracle of Chelmsford 2018 is required to turn things around.
The balance was already slightly in Essex’s favour when play began yesterday in sunny weather.
The hosts were 122-3 in reply to Yorkshire’s first innings 208, with Tom Westley (52) and Rishi Patel (10) the men in occupation.
Whereas Yorkshire showed intent to score on the first day, proceeding at 4.2 runs per over in their determination not to let dangerman spinner Simon Harmer settle in particular, Essex batted in intelligent manner, taking account of the match situation.
It is never over until the fat lady sings, as the old cliche goes, but at the halfway stage of this game she was going through her vocal warm-ups with the air of someone who expects to be taking to the stage very soon.Chris Waters
Only four runs came in the first seven overs, Patel then clipping the day’s first boundary off Ben Coad through mid-wicket, while Westley took half-an-hour to add to his account before square-driving Duanne Olivier for four.
The big first hour, as another old cliche goes, went the way of the hosts, and it was not until 20 minutes before lunch that Yorkshire finally took their first wicket of the day.
Patel, a slim and upright 20-year-old right-hander, clipped Matthew Fisher to short mid-wicket, where Will Fraine took the catch to break an admirably patient fourth-wicket partnership of 68 in 39 overs.
Westley, who played five Tests for England, the last of them in 2017, has had a disappointing season, but he eased past his previous best this year of 77 against Yorkshire at Emerald Headingley.
At lunch, he had 79 out of 193-4 only to become one of three quick wickets after the break, lbw as he tried to turn Olivier to leg.
The next two wickets came courtesy of the second new ball.
Adam Wheater was caught behind off Coad via the inside edge and Simon Harmer chopped on to Fisher, who did a good job on his first appearance of the summer.
At that stage, Essex were 222-7, only 14 ahead, and it was then that the game started to slip away from Yorkshire like someone gradually losing their youth.
Ryan ten Doeschate, who has also had a disappointing campaign, found some form, striking an unbeaten 70 from 125 deliveries.
The Essex captain looked in good nick from the moment that he lofted left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj for six over long-on early in his innings, and while he found a useful ally in Australian Peter Siddle, with whom he added 31 in seven overs.
But the key stand was for the ninth-wicket between ten Doeschate and Aaron Beard, which realised 75 in 23 overs, during the course of which ten Doeschate reached a 79-ball half-century and celebrated by lofting Maharaj for another straight six.
Although Maharaj dismissed Essex for 328 by bowling Beard and having Jamie Porter caught at second slip by Tom Kohler-Cadmore with successive balls, figures of 3-93 from 36 overs flattered him somewhat.
The South African has been outbowled by fellow countryman Harmer so far in this match, with the Essex man extracting more turn from a slow, dry surface.
One minute, Yorkshire think that they have got their opening partnership sorted out after a few barren years; the next, it is suddenly liable to fail.
With Adam Lyth and Will Fraine, it appears to be feast or famine at present, and after sharing only 18 in the first innings they managed only 10 second time before Fraine was bowled through the gate by Siddle after Yorkshire started their second innings 120 behind.
A second wicket followed for the former international when wicketkeeper Wheater flew to his left to take a brilliant one-handed catch when the ball found Gary Ballance’s edge, Ballance falling for his second single-figure score of the contest.
Kohler-Cadmore perished in similar style to the first innings, trapped lbw playing back to Harmer as he tried to swing him across the line.