O'Brien and Vaas make Essex toil

Lv County Championship

Watch free daily video highlights from every LV= County Championship match here on ecb.co.uk this summer

Niall O'Brien

Niall O'Brien, pictured, and Chaminda Vaas both hit 96 to give Northamptonshire a 105-run first-innings lead, which Essex reduced by 26 without loss at stumps on day three

Niall O’Brien and Chaminda Vaas both came within a whisker of making centuries as Northamptonshire secured a healthy first-innings lead on day three of their LV= County Championship Division Two match with Essex at Wantage Road.

Ireland wicketkeeper O’Brien smashed 96 off 139 balls and former Sri Lanka seamer Vaas made the same total from 183 deliveries as Northants declared on a mammoth 538 for nine, 105 ahead of their opponents’ score.

Essex then reached 26 without loss at the close, with a draw appearing almost inevitable heading into the final day.

Northants started the day on 256 for four, still 177 in arrears, with Alex Wakely resuming on 54 and captain Andrew Hall on six.

Wakely was to add just four to his overnight total before he top-edged Ravi Bopara to England vice-captain Alastair Cook at slip in the all-rounder’s first over of the day.

Hall reached 17 but then departed as he attempted to duck under a delivery from Lonwabo Tsotsobe and skewed the ball into the air to provide wicketkeeper James Foster with a simple catch.

O’Brien and Vaas survived the rest of the morning session, adding 72 between them as the hosts reached lunch on 345 for six.

O’Brien then completed a half-century off 94 balls by crashing David Masters for a straight four and Vaas reached 50 himself soon after, from three more deliveries than his partner.

Masters finally got his reward for toiling away when O’Brien smashed him straight to Mark Pettini at extra-cover.

That broke a seventh-wicket stand of 155 and James Middlebrook was run out for 18 from the last ball before tea as Vaas slipped when trying to run a single off Reece Topley, leaving his partner stranded as Billy Godleman threw the ball back to Foster from midwicket.

The ninth-wicket pairing of Vaas and Lee Daggett then added 50 in the evening session before Vaas finally holed out to Matt Walker at deep square-leg off Tim Phillips.

Northants finally declared after batting for 154 overs in total, leaving Daggett and Jack Brooks unbeaten on 33 and 15 respectively.

South African debutant Tsotsobe endured a tough time, bowling 15 no-balls en route to figures of 2-154 from 27 overs.

Essex openers Godleman and Cook survived the remaining seven overs and will resume tomorrow on 16 and 10.

Find out how the counties are shaping up for the new season - check out our exclusive interviews and features from around the country

County highlights

Jon Lewis promo

Watch highlights from every LV= County Championship match all summer - plus weekly round-ups of the best of the action in Divisions One and Two