The hosts lost David Masters, Tymal Mills and finally part-time off-spinner Tom Westley to respective Achilles, hamstring and hand injuries. The contest was therefore in danger of being reduced to a mis-match, with Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott batting against only two fit frontline bowlers - and three substitute fielders, including two schoolboys, also in action.
Shortly before rain interrupted proceedings, Topley - initially rested by Essex for this match - bowled three balls, therefore officially ensuring this was no longer a first-class fixture.
Among those who might feel a little aggrieved were Essex leg-spinner Tom Craddock and England's Tim Bresnan - whose career-best bowling and first hundred in six years would no longer count in the records.
England's management and their hosts nonetheless decided a pragmatic decision was required to ensure home preparations for next week's first Test against Australia were not further undermined.
When the teams had to go off, Cook (69no) and Trott had taken their team to 139 for one in their second innings - and into an overall lead of 274.
There was a reassuring sight for England this morning when Graeme Swann was able to field and bowl after X-rays revealed no fracture to his right arm.
England had a fleeting injury scare over their first-choice spinner yesterday.
But they confirmed last night Swann had suffered no serious injury and there was physical evidence of his well-being while Essex's last pair Mills and Craddock took the hosts to 278 all out.
- Sports & Recreation
- Alastair Cook
- Jonathan Trott
- Tom Westley
- Tom Craddock