Nick Browne played another innings of promise to hold Essex together on an intriguing second day of the LV= County Championship match against Derbyshire at Chesterfield.
The 23-year-old left-hander from Leytonstone dug in for more than five hours to score an unbeaten career-best 86 out of 202 for five before a storm prevented any play in the evening session.
Derbyshire's bowlers gave nothing away after Ravi Bopara fell to the 10th ball of the morning but they could not get past Browne's bat to leave the contest in the balance.
The way the day started hinted at Derbyshire ending it on top with Bopara departing in the second over. The England batsman added only four to his overnight 11 before he gloved a ball from Mark Footitt down the leg side and left with a rueful look at the pitch.
The occasional ball lifted sharply for bowlers operating from the Pavilion End, which was where Wes Durston was struck on the helmet yesterday. He did not take to the field at all on day two, although Derbyshire hope he will play again in the match.
His team-mates bowled tightly in the morning and fielded keenly although Alex Hughes spilled a regulation chance at second slip off Tom Taylor when Jesse Ryder was on 32, but it was not costly as the New Zealander chopped the ball into his stumps two overs later having not added to his score.
Browne gave Derbyshire little encouragement as he dug in with skipper James Foster to go in at lunch unbeaten on 44 and he reached his second fifty in consecutive championship matches from 134 balls.
— Derbyshire CCC (@DerbyshireCCC) July 8, 2014
It included 10 fours, most of them worked off his pads, although he drove well without taking risks and his watchful approach was just what Essex required on a pitch demanding vigilance.
Foster paid for a lapse in concentration when he played on, trying to cut a wide ball from Taylor, and Ryan ten Doeschate was undone by one that kept low from Hughes with Essex still 110 behind.
But former Derbyshire all-rounder Greg Smith matched the patience of Browne to take Essex to a batting point before a torrential downpour burst over Queen's Park during the tea interval to end play for the day with the opener 14 short of what would be a richly deserved century in his seventh first-class appearance.
"It's nice to be in this situation; I would be more annoyed if I was out on nought," Browne said. "They bowled well, they didn't give me a lot to score off so I just sat in and waited for my shots and how long I had to wait was down to how well they bowled.
"There's a little bit of uneven bounce with the odd one kicking at you off a length and another staying low so you had to be very watchful and be aware that could happen on your cross-bat shots, which is where we lost two or three wickets."
Derbyshire's elite performance director Graeme Welch said: "It's an even game and it's a shame we couldn't get back out there with just a couple of overs to the new ball. If we can get 50 or 60 ahead on that pitch it would be a good position to be in.
"There's enough in the pitch and if you get balls in the right area enough times something should happen and we did really well today. We are still in the game and we've got a new ball to come in the morning."