PAUL Walter and Ben Allison’s maiden LV= Insurance County Championship half-centuries set up a thrilling final day in a topsy-turvy clash at the County Ground.

Essex’s last three wickets added a combined 122, with all-rounder Walter’s 77 and fast bowler Allison’s 52 producing an incredible match swing – after the home side had been skittled for 96 in the first innings.

Having been bowled out for 330, and set Durham 168 to win, Sam Cook and Jamie Porter struck three times with the new ball to leave the visitors on 60 for three, and still requiring 108 more runs on the fourth day.

Durham’s target to win looked a nervy one and after two wickets before a run had been scored it appeared all the more anxious.

Will Young shouldered his arms at Sam Cook for a golden duck, before Alex Lees was plumb lbw to Jamie Porter.

It took 35 balls before Durham got off the mark, and only 20 runs were on the board when David Bedingham gave Allison catching practice at point.

Scott Borthwick dropped anchor and having been one off 39 and six off 67 at points, he ended the day on nine from 88 deliveries, with Jack Burnham reaching an enterprising 31 not out, to swing the pendulum slightly towards Durham.

At 11am, both sides had clear game plans for the third day – with blue skies overhead.

The former's mission to take four quick tail-end wickets started perfectly as Ben Raine pinned Simon Harmer with the third ball of the day. But slowly Essex’s hopes of stealing a win grew with back-to-back 50 run partnerships.

Walter converted his overnight 49 to a half-century with the fifth ball he’d faced - a cut to the boundary to reach the milestone in 74 deliveries. He and Allison negotiated the second new ball on their way to a 58-run stand for the eighth wicket.

Walter departed for a career-best 77 when the impressive Brydon Carse angled across and found an edge behind.

Allison then moved to his maiden career fifty, from 144 balls, as he and Sam Cook continued to tick along.

After an extended interval to pay respect to Prince Phillip, Carse ended Allison’s resolve by striking him in front of middle stump four balls after the resumption before Cook edged behind for 37. Carse returning figures of five for 82.