Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott made substantial contributions with the bat as England built a commanding lead over Essex on day three of the LV= Challenge.
The national side were 352 ahead on 217 for three when a third break for rain brought about a premature close at Chelmsford.
Yet Essex had only one wicket to celebrate, Cook and Trott having retired out at tea with 82 and 79 to their respective names.
Trott was especially fluent during a second-wicket partnership of 119 and neither batsman could be shifted when Essex, shorn of injured seamers David Masters and Tymal Mills, had their attack bolstered by the inclusion of Reece Topley and Boyd Rankin midway through the afternoon.
The supplementation of the home team ensured the game lost its first-class status, something of a blow for Tim Bresnan - a centurion yesterday - and young Essex spinner Tom Craddock, who had claimed a five-wicket haul.
England needed half an hour this morning to take Essex’s last wicket. Number 11 Mills made a career-best 31 with some lusty blows before being bowled by Graeme Swann to end the innings on 278.
Cook survived an early scare in England’s second innings when Sajid Mahmood failed to take a caught-and-bowled chance.
The skipper went on to share 76 with new opening partner Joe Root, before Craddock had the Yorkshireman lbw on the back foot for 26. By that stage, Essex were already without Masters and Mills, leaving skipper Ravi Bopara light on options.
It was therefore agreed that Rankin and Topley would be added to the fray and the former certainly provided greater threat when entering the attack after the day’s first rain break.
Cook and Trott were nevertheless able to accumulate with minimal fuss on an easy-paced wicket.
The form of England’s number three was particularly encouraging as he timed the ball sweetly to register seven fours.
Ian Bell and Jonny Bairstow were given an opportunity to spend time at the middle after tea, yet the inclement weather ensured only eight more overs were bowled.
6:21pm - STUMPS - We have seen our final action today at Chelmsford. England take a lead of 352 into the last day.
6:06pm - RAIN STOPS PLAY - Eng 217/3 - Bell 12, Bairstow 10 - Another shower leads to the day's third interruption. How frustrating!
Play has been abandoned for the day at New Road, where Australia close on 340 for four.
6:03pm - Bairstow wastes little time in finding the boundary on the resumption of play, clipping neatly off his hip when facing Rankin.
5:57pm - I take that back. The rain has relented and here come the players!
5:53pm - I'm afraid there is no sign of play resuming at Chelmsford just yet.
5:24pm - It is also raining at New Road, where Australia are 340 for four.
5:15pm - RAIN STOPS PLAY - Eng 209/3; Bell 9, Bairstow 5 - Unfortunately the heavens have opened once again. There are 26 overs remaining in the day.
Cowan, like Clarke, has been run out in Australia's first innings at New Road.
5:04pm - Reece Topley and Tom Craddock have operated economically since tea as the new batsmen settle in.
4:54pm - Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott have retired out on 82 and 79 respectively, meaning Ian Bell and Jonny Bairstow come out for the evening session with England now 195 for three.
4:46pm - Australia skipper Clarke is run out for 62, leaving the tourists 303 for three.
4:39pm - At New Road, both Michael Clarke and Ed Cowan have brought up half-centuries for Australia, who have enjoyed a fine day with the bat.
4:33pm - TEA - Eng 195/1; Cook 82, Trott 79 - England lead by 330 as tea is taken. Cook has looked solid and Trott increasingly fluent.
4:22pm - CENTURY PARTNERSHIP! Another cut from Trott, this time off Rankin, takes the second-wicket stand into three figures. England's number three has been the dominant partner with 64 from 88 balls. He subsequently glances fine for four more.
4:18pm - Cook is beaten for a second time by Rankin when playing loosely away from his body. England’s captain then pulls for two as rain starts to fall once again. The players stay on and Trott exhibits class with a late cut for four off Bopara.
4:02pm - FIFTY! Trott (73b 3x4 0x6) - The assured Trott eases Ravi Bopara into the leg side for two, bringing up his half-century in the process.
4pm - Trott glances Rankin down to fine-leg for a boundary that takes England past 150. The bowler responds by beating Alastair Cook’s inside edge, but there is little else to concern the batsmen at present on a pitch that remains true.
3:44pm - Rankin almost picks up the wicket of Warwickshire team-mate Jonathan Trott, who edges just wide of the solitary slip. Trott then takes a blow to the leg that provides brief discomfort.
It is tea-time at New Road, where Australia are 248 for two.
3:38pm - The action has resumed, with Reece Topley completing the over he started before the rain. Boyd Rankin, who is wearing full England kit, will bowl from the Hayes Close End.
3:25pm - Encouraging news from Chelmsford where play is due to restart at 3:35pm with no overs lost.
3:15pm - Unfortunately there is no prospect of play at Chelmsford but they are still going at New Road where the pace of the game has changed significantly compared to Watson’s pre-lunch hundred. Cowan and Michael Clarke have just played out five straight maidens from Shantry and Charles Morris at 222 for two, a sequence broken by Clarke edging Morris past slip for four.
3pm - While waiting for the rain to stop and the players to return, why not watch this video of support to England for the Ashes from Mock the Week comedians?
2:47pm - Topley manages three balls before rain forces the players off with England 139 for one , 274 ahead, of which Cook has 69 and Trott 36. In an update from Worcester, Rogers is out for 75 to Jack Shantry.
2:39pm - Boyd Rankin, England’s twelfth man, and fellow seamer Reece Topley are about to come on and bowl for Essex, meaning the game loses its first-class status . What a shame for Tim Bresnan, who thought he had hit a fourth first-class hundred, and Craddock, who was under the impression he had earned a second first-class five-for.
2:30pm - Cook and Trott share the innings’ second half-century alliance. Westley becomes the third Essex player to leave the field through injury before part-time spinner Owais Shah enters the attack. Meanwhile, Australia have passed 200 for the loss of one wicket, Ed Cowan having joined Rogers at the crease.
2:15pm - Sajid Mahmood comes into the attack, effectively in place of Craddock with Westley switching ends. Ravi Bopara, Essex captain in this match, has limited bowling options with only himself currently available besides the aforementioned trio.
1:57pm - FIFTY! Cook (80b 4x4 1x6) - The England captain progresses to a half-century with two off Westley that also takes England to three figures. Australia’s Chris Rogers also has a fifty but his opening partner Shane Watson has holed out to leg off Moeen Ali for 109 . The tourists are 170 for one versus Worcestershire at New Road.
1:40pm - Tom Craddock begins the afternoon session bowling to Jonathan Trott, with Tom Westley then also offering spin from the other end. David Masters is still off for Essex and Tymal Mills has been ruled out of the game with a grade one hamstring tear .
1pm - LUNCH - Eng 80/1; Cook 44, Trott 3 - Jonathan Trott gets off the mark with three off Bopara the ball before the interval. Australia take lunch at 150 for none with Watson on 102 and Rogers 43. If they are on that score at lunch a week tomorrow it will be quite a story!
12:52pm - WICKET! Root lbw Craddock 26; Eng 76/1 - Root pays for playing back to a ball that skids on and hits him on the back knee-roll in front of leg stump. Craddock has his sixth wicket of the match. While this is happening Watson heralds a 94-delivery century , featuring 14 fours and two sixes, before lunch at New Road against a relatively inexperienced Worcestershire attack.
12:44pm - Ravi Bopara, Essex’s captain in this game, has taken over the bowling from Mahmood. Cook, who in the next over launches Craddock for six, and Root continue to progress smoothly.
12:35pm - Experienced seamer David Masters has not taken the field in England’s second innings due to an Achilles injury and Mills has left the action due to a sore hamstring.
Substitute fielder for Essex is young 15 year old Aaron Beard who's part of the Academy - check out his video profile http://t.co/auUQTpaMaf
— Essex Cricket (@EssexCricket) July 2, 2013
12:29pm - Root beautifully punches Mahmood off the back foot and through the covers for four to herald England’s fifty. At the same time Australia reach three figures via a Watson maximum off Shantry.
12:13pm - Watson reaches a 49-ball fifty with his eighth four, this one off Jack Shantry to square-leg, to go with a six. Leg-spinner Tom Craddock has replaced Mills in the seventh over of England’s innings.
11:59am - Following a tight Mills over, Joe Root deposits a Mahmood full-toss through the covers for four. Shane Watson and Chris Rogers have shared a fifty partnership for Australia.
11:50am - DROPPED CHANCE! Sajid Mahmood, sharing the new ball with Mills, cannot hold a sharp but regulation caught-and-bowled chance from Cook during a maiden.
11:41am - Tymal Mills, a key player for Essex so far in the match, takes the new ball against Alastair Cook, who soon pulls for four.
11:30am - WICKET AND END OF INNINGS! Mills b Swann 31; Essex 278 all out. Mills smashes Swann for consecutive sixes to midwicket and down the ground, the first shot beating his previous best score of 20. However, the next ball is much slower and the right-hander fails to connect before it clips his off stump, leaving Craddock unbeaten on 11. England lead by 135 on first innings.
11:27am - The hosts reach 265 for nine to avoid the threat of following on, although it is not certain England would have forced it. Meanwhile, Australia opener Shane Watson has made a flying start with the tourists advancing to 31 for none from six overs.
11:22am - Swann replaces Root and Mills immediately heaves him for four to long-on as Essex’s last-wicket pair continue their offensive.
11:15am - Craddock and Mills unsurprisingly attack the bowling, both striking a boundary although nearly offering a chance. Ian Bell, fielding at short-leg, takes a blow to the right knee via a Mills heave but is able to continue.
11am - Graeme Swann is on the field for England, standing at second slip. Steven Finn resumes his over, bowling at Tymal Mills. Joe Root is given the chance of a five-for by sharing bowling duties, but Tom Craddock hits him through the covers for four.
10:55am - Play is due to start in five minutes at Chelmsford and New Road. These are exciting times with the Investec Ashes beginning a week tomorrow.
10:45am - On the day Ahmed became available to Australia, they have left first-choice spinner Nathan Lyon out against Worcestershire with 19-year-old slow left-armer Ashton Agar making his first appearance of the tour. It is hard to imagine that Agar would be preferred to Lyon for next week’s first Test though.
10:40am - Graeme Swann was yesterday hit on his right forearm while making 94 . After his innings he had an X-ray that revealed no fracture and just bruising. Swann took part in England’s warm-up this morning. Yesterday evening centurion Tim Bresnan, who added 187 for the eighth wicket with Swann, said he was not worried by the blow his batting partner took .
10:35am - Australia captain Michael Clarke opts to bat first despite overcast skies in Worcester. Clarke says he wants his side to get used to batting in such conditions. Home skipper Daryl Mitchell, who confirmed Compton will play, admitted he would have bowled first anyway.
10:30am - Australia start their last warm-up game before the Investec Ashes today. They face a Worcestershire side set to include Somerset batsman Nick Compton at New Road. Overnight, Pakistan-born leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed has been granted Australian citizenship . Although he is not in Australia’s squad, he is now free to play for them.
10:20am - Good morning. England are well placed at the halfway stage of their LV= Challenge match with Essex at Chelmsford. The hosts are 231 for nine in their first innings, 182 behind. Play is due to resume at 11am.