A magnificent unbeaten century by Simon Katich took Lancashire to within seven runs of Essex on first innings as the visitors ended day two of their LV= County Championship Division Two match on 266 for seven at Chelmsford.
Katich was justly rewarded for a studious and well-organised innings, having looked impressively fluent from the time he walked to the crease. He scored a chanceless 120 through more than four-and-a-half hours and faced 185 deliveries, of which 14 were despatched to the boundary.
It is the first time Katich has reached three figures for Lancashire, having passed 50 on four occasions in the championship this season only to be dismissed twice in the nineties.
The Australian found a dependable ally in Ashwell Prince and the highly experienced left-handed duo, with 122 Test caps between them, took a grip on proceedings immediately after lunch courtesy of both positive strokeplay and running between the wickets.
The Essex attack persevered and toiled away with little encouragement as bat dominated ball until Prince, on 49, offered a sharp chance to Tom Westley at second slip off the bowling of David Masters. The catch was spilled and Prince then survived a strong lbw appeal next delivery but Masters would not be denied.
Prince had completed a 104-ball half-century with six fours when he went on the drive and edged a catch to James Foster to leave the visitors 151 for three and end a partnership of 110 in 33 overs.
His downfall revived Essex’s spirits as the Lancashire innings crumbled either side of tea, five wickets going down inside 20 overs for 57 runs against the pace of Graham Napier and left-armer Reece Topley.
Andrea Agathangelou lost his middle stump as he pushed forward facing a Napier delivery and, in the bowler’s next over, Steven Croft edged behind without scoring.
Topley raced in to remove Gareth Cross and Wayne White, both caught by former Lancashire player Sajid Mahmood off mis-timed pulls as the Red Rose slumped to 208 for seven.
Yet Katich continued his accomplished innings and found useful late support from Kyle Hogg, who helped add 58 before bad light brought an end to proceedings for the day at the cost of six overs lost.
Earlier, 22 year-old championship debutant Luis Reece made a pleasing start by driving to the boundary from the second ball he faced. By the time he was caught at second slip off Napier to follow Masters victim Luke Procter back to the pavilion for 24, he had reached the ropes on a further four occasions.
Reece and Procter found themselves in the middle after skipper Glen Chapple removed Mahmood and Topley, the former for a breezy 23, to finish as the pick of the Lancashire bowlers with 3-47.