The defending champions took a 20-point lead into this week’s final round of fixtures, needing just five more to secure the title outright for the 21st time.
Three of those were accrued in bowling bonuses on day one of their meeting with Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl, and while Liam Dawson’s five-for denied the visitors the batting bonus points needed to seal the deal on day two, Essex were left needing to score at least 400 in their first innings reply to Northants’ 369 to keep the pressure on.
Beginning day three on 125 for four, Tom Westley’s men lost their final six wickets for just shy of a hundred runs to be skittled for 211 before lunch, allowing Surrey to return to the field after a rain delay at Hampshire knowing the trophy will be theirs regardless of the outcomes in either match.
Gareth Batty’s side trailed Hampshire by 12 first-innings runs at the midway stage and had made early breakthroughs to remove openers Toby Albert and Fletcha Middleton in the home side’s second innings.
Essex, meanwhile, have been asked to follow on at Northants, whose poor season is ending with a flourish after they dominated Surrey at The Oval last week but were forced to settle for a draw due to torrential rain.