Veteran Northamptonshire bowler Ben Sanderson dented Essex’s lingering hopes of clinching the LV= Insurance County Championship title with a masterclass of seam bowling at Wantage Road.

Essex started their first innings needing at least 400 if rivals Surrey were bowled out for less than 250 in their game at Southampton, but Sanderson made short work of their top order, removing Alastair Cook, Nick Browne and Dan Lawrence in a nine over spell, while conceding just 14 runs.

They rallied to 125 for four by close of play, still trailing by 244 runs to just about keep their challenge alive following Surrey’s collapse at the Ageas Bowl.

Sanderson (3-15) made the most of overcast conditions under lights, bowling a metronomic line and length and extracting prodigious seam movement which drew Essex’s batters into repeatedly playing and missing outside off-stump. Along the way he reached 350 first-class wickets in Northamptonshire colours when he dismissed Cook.

Earlier centurion Rob Keogh moved from his overnight 154 past his previous highest score of 161 at Wantage Road, before he was trapped lbw to Umesh Yadav for 172 off just 167 balls (25 fours, four sixes).

Justin Broad, who played the supporting role throughout a 98-run partnership with Keogh in 20 overs, went on to post his maiden first-class half-century when he smashed Jamie Porter (4-105) down the ground for four. He largely eschewed risk, hitting along the ground and sweeping the spinners adeptly, finishing unbeaten on 56 (95 balls, 7 fours).

Wickets continued to fall at the other end though. Tom Taylor (14), playing his final match for Northamptonshire before moving to newly-promoted Worcestershire, came out with real intent. He smashed Matt Critchley down the ground for six, but when he attempted to repeat the shot, he could only pick out Porter at mid-on.

The new ball did the trick for Porter who got one to seam back and knock Sanderson’s middle stump out of the ground before enticing the edge from White, Alastair Cook taking a tumbling catch at slip.

In reply, Browne (13) started briskly but drove loosely to a fuller ball from Sanderson and was caught behind by keeper Lewis McManus. Cook (6) played a beautiful extra cover drive off Sanderson but was undone when the Northamptonshire stalwart got one to nip back and send his off-stump cartwheeling.

Lawrence (12), playing his final match for Essex before he joins Surrey, fell soon after lunch when he played away from his body to another ball from Sanderson which seamed away, McManus again taking the catch.

Critchley (17) saw off Sanderson, eventually getting hold of one from Taylor, guiding it safely down to third to bring up Essex’s 50 in the 16th over and driving White through midwicket for another boundary. But when Northamptonshire skipper Luke Procter pitched one up, Critchley played across the line trying to work the ball to leg, only to have his off-stump knocked back.

Jack White was finding plenty of movement off the seam too and drew Paul Walter into edging behind with just 1 to his name, only for Karun Nair to drop the ball at first slip. Walter though started to find the boundary, driving fluently through extra cover.

Tom Westley, who had put on 33 with Critchley, played sweetly off his legs early on, but became becalmed, scoring just 1 out of an unbeaten partnership of 27 with Walter before bad light and rain stopped play with Essex on 95 for four, still trailing by 274 runs.

After the resumption, Walter started to stroke the ball sweetly down the ground, but Essex’s scoring remained doggedly below three an over, putting them a long way behind the rate needed to secure the three batting bonus points they need.