ESSEX are locked in an intriguing and evenly poised Specsavers County Championship match at Lancashire after two days at Emirates Old Trafford.

England Test opener Alastair Cook posted a pleasing 58 as the visitors responded to Lancashire’s first-innings 301 with 221 for six from 60.1 overs.

Australian overseas seamer Joe Mennie was the pick of the home bowling with three for 40 from 16.1 overs, including three for eight in 23 balls shortly after lunch.

Rain wiped out all but seven balls of the evening session, and Essex will begin day three 80 runs in arrears.

This was a topsy turvy shortened day.

It started with Lancashire advancing from 297 for nine overnight to gain a third batting bonus point before Tom Bailey found deep square-leg for 38 to hand Simon Harmer his third wicket.

Champions Essex then made confident progress through to lunch, reaching 114 for one, although they had to navigate some probing home bowling.

Cook hit 10 fours in his 102-ball stay, but he benefitted from a Haseeb Hameed drop at first slip, two hands above his head, on 18 off Graham Onions, who had earlier uprooted Varun Chopra’s off-stump as he offered no shot to a nip backer.

Cook and Tom Westley (41) shared 110 inside 24 overs either side of lunch to recover from nine for one.

But the visitors endured a horrible start to the afternoon as swing aided the Red Rose under increasingly cloudy skies.

They lost four wickets for eleven runs to slip from 119 for one to 130 for five, with Mennie striking three times in 23 balls.

He had Cook edging behind stuck on the crease before yorking Westley and getting Ravi Bopara caught at second slip. Sandwiched in between, Onions trapped Dan Lawrence lbw as he stepped across his stumps.

Essex then recovered through their captain Ryan ten Doeschate and sixth-wicket partner Adam Wheater, who shared 81 through the second half of the afternoon to take their side beyond 200.

However, their alliance was broken by sharp work from behind the stumps by wicketkeeper and birthday boy Dane Vilas.

Ten Doeschate tried to pinch his 44th run to short cover only for 33-year-old Vilas to retrieve the ball and athletically throw the stumps down at the non-striker’s end, leaving Essex at 211 for six in the 56th.

There was only five minutes of play after tea before a heavy rain shower hung around for much longer than anticipated to prevent any play beyond 4.35pm.

Umpires Jeremy Lloyds and Steve O’Shaughnessy abandoned the day at 5.30pm.

Wheater will begin day three unbeaten on 31 and Harmer on seven.