ESSEX batsman Paul Walter was philosophical after falling agonisingly shy of a maiden first-class century in his side's draw with Northamptonshire, writes MARTIN SMITH.

Walter fell seven runs short of a century and three runs short of his career-best, though his mercurial 93 ensured Essex save the game.

The tall left-hander anchored Essex’s second innings for five and a half hours before he was undone by a delivery from occasional bowler Saif Zaib that spun past his half-cock forward defensive.

Walter said: “The main thing for us going into the last day was to save the game.

"It was not ideal for us but after the position we found ourselves in at the end of day two, we would obviously take the draw.

“I think a lot of credit for our fightback has to go to our lower-order batting especially Shane Snater on day-three morning.

"It flipped the momentum in our favour and from there we managed to really buckle down and bat a long period of time to save the game.

“We knew it was a bit of a new-ball wicket but when the ball did get soft, it was going to be a lot easier to bat.

"So it was just a matter today to try and grind out as long as possible and work a partnership with your mate in the middle and see where it would take us.

“I would like to have been not out at the end and see the lads home, but that’s cricket and we got the draw in the end.

"We are all aware that, as a collective, we need to score more runs in the first innings.”

Walter's good work was carried on once he had departed, though without the same panache, by Adam Wheater who used up 174 balls of the day’s allocation while scoring just 33 runs.

In the end Wheater was still there to accept the handshake of Northampton captain Ricardo Vasconcelos on the draw just after five o’clock.

Off-spinner Rob Keogh wheeled away relentlessly for 33 overs to claim 4-51, supported by seamer Tom Taylor who charged in to return figures of 3-62. But their joint efforts were in vain.

Northamptonshire had enforced the follow-on at lunch-time on day three after racking up a 197-run lead on first innings.

But they were unable to make the inroads they were hoping for on the final morning and they enjoyed only sporadic success thereafter.

With Walter leading the rearguard action, Essex lost just two wickets before lunch while moving into a position where Northamptonshire would have needed to bat again.

Essex batted out the final five sessions of the match, showing greatly improved application among their middle-order than in the first innings when they collapsed to 83 for eight.

They were rescued then by a Shane Snater-inspired tail-end insurgence that took their total to 193 in reply to Northamptonshire’s 390.

On a docile pitch offering little assistance to the bowlers, the overnight pair of Critchley and Walter reached the century milestone for the fourth wicket without undue alarm.

Immediately, though, Critchley chased a wide delivery from Tom Taylor and spooned to short mid-off for 47.

Walter, whose top score remains his 96 against Gloucestershire last summer, was particularly strong off his legs.

One flick to the long-leg boundary off Gareth Berg took Essex into the black for the first time in the game, 82 overs into their second innings.

Feroze Khushi joined Walter in a free-scoring, 69-run stand that was ended when a delivery from Taylor leapt off a length and Khushi was caught behind for 30.

When Walter departed after a 246-ball stay as the sixth man down, Essex’s lead was just 67 with a minimum of 54 overs remaining.

But Wheater dug in doggedly, batting all the way through the afternoon session while facing 100 balls and adding just 16 to his personal account.

But he lost Simon Harmer after 16 overs’ joint resistance when the South African all-rounder steered Keogh into first slip’s hands.

Keogh claimed a third wicket when Snater swept injudiciously to Zaib stationed just inside the midwicket boundary. The lead had now become 107 with 27 possible overs left.

With six men around the bat, Mark Steketee thumped Keogh back for two boundaries but was then beaten outside his attempted defensive fend-off by the off-spinner.

It just remained for Wheater and Same Cook to see out three overs for one run before curtains were drawn.