SIR Alastair Cook posted his second half-century of the match as Essex overcame a substantial first-innings deficit to nose ahead against Nottinghamshire.

England’s all-time leading Test run-scorer was 87 not out and closing in on his first century at Trent Bridge, with skipper Tom Westley unbeaten on 70, as Essex moved 55 runs in front at the end of day three of their LV= Insurance County Championship match, closing on 199 for one.

Cook’s innings improved his career-best first-class score at Trent Bridge for the second time in 48 hours, having top-scored with 72 as Essex were bowled out for 298 in their first innings before the home side posted 442 in reply on the back of Matt Montgomery’s impressive 177.

Cook, who turns 39 on December 25 and has yet to decide on his future beyond this season, will come back on Sunday determined to register his first century on this ground, especially after surviving a couple of chances on day three.

Strike bowler Sam Cook and leg-spinner Matt Critchley finished with three wickets each after Essex had taken the remaining five Nottinghamshire first-innings wickets in the course of the morning session.

Having been 28 ahead overnight, Nottinghamshire stretched their lead into one that seemed to put them firmly in control of the game.

Montgomery, 130 not out at Friday’s close, failed by one run to match the 178 he made against Durham in the final match of his debut season last September as the highest score of his career to date.

The 23-year-old had another escape on 155, when a sharp chance to Simon Harmer at short mid-wicket off Doug Bracewell went to ground.

Clearly, it was not so important to Essex as the opportunities that were not taken at the start of his innings, when he was missed on nought and dropped on four. Nonetheless, it would not have improved the mood in the visiting dressing room.

Montgomery found impressive support from Calvin Harrison, whose seven boundaries in a 36-ball 31 included some of the best shots of the day and took Nottinghamshire’s total beyond 400 before Bracewell made a mess of his middle and off stumps.

Brett Hutton then hit straight to mid-wicket off Harmer before Critchley had Montgomery leg before reverse sweeping.

Dane Paterson was the last wicket to fall just before lunch to leave Nottinghamshire 144 runs ahead.

Paterson then almost struck early on in Essex’s reply when Cook, on 15, edged his delivery hard and high towards Harrison, who got his hands to the chance above his head but could do no more than that.

It was all-rounder Lyndon James who made the only breakthrough five overs before tea, getting one to go past the inside of Nick Browne’s defensive bat and on to pad, breaking an opening stand of 62.

Spinner Liam Patterson-White was also beginning to look a threat and there was another escape on 29 for Cook, Steven Mullaney diving to his right at slip behind wicketkeeper Joe Clarke, but again unable to hold on to the chance.

Cook and Westley then turned things Essex’s way in the final session, the former stroking through the covers to bring up his fifty. By the close, his boundary tally stood at 10 and he and Westley had added 137 for the second wicket, having put together a 135-run partnership in the first innings.