ALEX Davies tightened Lancashire’s stranglehold on the opening County Championship match of the season at Chelmsford.
The 22-year-old opener helped Lancashire build on their first-innings lead of 160 with an unbeaten half-century as they closed on their first Championship win in 12 games.
Lancashire captain Steven Croft had declined to enforce the follow-up after Stephen Parry wrapped up the Essex innings with his third wicket, his 14.4 overs of spin from the River End costing just 28 runs.
Parry broke the back of the Essex batting with two wickets in six balls either side of lunch, removing potential danger men Dan Lawrence and Adam Wheater.
Jimmy Anderson, who finished with three for 56, turned the screw with Kyle Jarvis from the start of the day, making it difficult for Essex to score with any freedom.
Ravi Bopara struggled before the first interval, but found his range after it and was seventh out for a 112-ball 46 that included seven fours.
When Lancashire went in again, Essex did themselves no favours by dropping Alex Davies twice when he was on 10 and 26, both off Neil Wagner.
Tom Westley spilled an in-and-out chance at second slip and Ryan ten Doeschate failed to hang on at leg gulley. Davies reached his 50 from the penultimate ball of the day and was still there at the close when Lancashire led by 274 with nine wickets to fall.
The opening pair had put on 83 when Aaron Beard made the breakthrough in the 30th over when Haseeb Hameed was caught behind for 45 from 98 balls.
Essex had found runs well-nigh impossible to come by in the morning session when they managed just 58 runs in 30 overs.
It took nearly 40 minutes, and 10 overs, for Essex to score their first boundary when Chopra angled Anderson wide of the slips to take the score from the overnight 39 for two to 49.
But all the watchfulness and patience was thrown away in the space of six balls soon afterwards.
Chopra had faced 32 balls in the session while grinding out seven runs before he chased a wide one from Jarvis and thumped his pad in self-disgust as he walked off.
Westley had managed just three from 38 balls when he too went for a wide-ish ball from Anderson he could and should have left and gave Davies his fourth successive catch behind.
Bopara had been even more snail-like than Chopra and Westley. He took 14 balls to get off the mark – a straight-driven four off Jordan Clark – and another 19 balls before his next scoring stroke, a single off McLaren. In total he took 53 balls over his first 11 runs before lunch.
Before that, Dan Lawrence had upped the scoring rate. The fourth of his six boundaries, a textbook cover drive off Ryan McLaren, took him to 17 from 18 deliveries.
But when he had reached 37 from 57 he was drawn forward by Parry and turned the ball to Liam Livingstone’s hands at first slip. Lawrence stood his ground while Lancashire celebrated before the umpires conferred and sent him on his way.
Parry took a wicket with his sixth ball after lunch, pinning Wheater on his back foot, and the Essex collapse was well and truly underway.
Bopara smashed Kyle Jarvis for two boundaries through the off-side in one over, and then leant back and cut Anderson for another four. He had put on 48 in 16 overs for the seventh wicket with Ryan ten Doeschate when he got to a ball from Anderson a fraction too early and clipped it to Parry at midwicket.
It was the prelude to the final three wickets going down for a dozen runs in nine overs.
Anderson was replaced by Ryan McLaren at the Hayes Close End and the South African’s first ball had Simon Harmer plumb in front.
Next over he had ten Doeschate waving at one outside off-stump to give Davies catch No5. The innings ended with Parry’s third wicket, Jamie Porter trapped lbw.