Ed Barnard’s four-wicket haul helped Worcestershire CCC secure a narrow first innings lead before Tom Fell pressed home their advantage with a splendid knock in the Bob Willis Trophy encounter with Northamptonshire at Wantage Road.
The impressive Barnard added two more scalps today to finish with 4-46 from 17 overs in an excellent sustained spell from the Pavilion End as the home side were dismissed for 212 – seven runs in arrears.
Fellow pacemen Josh Tongue bowled aggressively and was rewarded with three wickets and there was the same haul for Club Captain Joe Leach who has already clocked up 14 victims in five innings.
Another feature of Worcestershire’s performance was a series of superb slip catches taken by Riki Wessels, Daryl Mitchell and Tom Fell alongside the excellent keeping of Ben Cox.
Fell then showed great application and skill with the bat in completing a 103 ball fifty with four fours. He ended unbeaten on 81 and was well supported by Mitchell and Jack Haynes as Worcestershire closed on 177-6.
He has looked in good touch since cricket resumed after lockdown, scoring 39 and 32 not out versus Gloucestershire and 36 against Glamorgan, and here he ensured he capitalised on another solid start.
It was a deserved reward for all the work Fell put into all aspects of his game last winter and during the pre-season.
When play began on time this morning there were potentially 98 overs to be bowled in the day in an effort to partially make up for some of the overs lost to bad weather on the opening two days.
Worcestershire got off to the ideal start with three quick wickets after Northamptonshire had resumed on 90-4.
Tongue made the first breakthrough when Charlie Thurston (21) attempted a back foot square drive but only succeeded in nicking through to keeper Ben Cox.
Saif Zaib (23) drove hard at a delivery from Leach and a thick edge was taken by Riki Wessels tumbling back at the second attempt after he cleverly knocked the ball up in the air.
It became 100-7 when Northamptonshire captain Adam Rossington (4) was squared up by a fine delivery from Tongue and this time it was the turn of Tom Fell to take a fine ankle high catch at third slip.
The wicket was still offering plenty of encouragement for the bowlers and Nathan Buck decided on an aggressive approach which yielded 32 in a stand of 59 with Gareth Berg.
Barnard broke the stand when Buck fell victim to yet another good catch by Daryl Mitchell away to his left at second slip.
He secured his fourth wicket when he found the edge of Blessing Muzarabani’s bat after he had made 15 – and again Fell excelled by holding the chance away to his left.
It secured the third bowling bonus point for Worcestershire.
The innings ended on the verge of lunch when Berg (45) fell to the Cox-Leach combination to earn Worcestershire a narrow first innings advantage.
When Worcestershire batted for the second time, Jake Libby (3) was caught at first slip off Nathan Buck.
Opener Mitchell and Fell were understandably initially watchful against the new ball but gradually flourished.
Mitchell greeted Blessing Muzarabani’s introduction into the attack by twice cutting him for four in an over – the second one high over point.
Fell steered Jack White to the third man boundary and a drive for two off the same over brought up the 50 partnership with Mitchell in 19 overs.
The pair had extended their stand to 67 when Mitchell (39) was lbw to White in what proved to be the final ball before tea with Worcestershire 78-2 from 30.1 overs.
Fell was joined by Haynes who was busy and looking to score from the time he arrived at the crease. A single off spinner Saif Zaib enabled Fell to complete his half century.
Haynes (32 off 61 balls with four fours) helped Fell add a further 59 before he tried to work Zaib on the legside and fell to a fine reflex catch at slip off the leading edge by Ricardo Vasconcelos.
Brett D’Oliveira (5) – caught behind – and Wessels (5) – bowled via the inside edge – were dismissed in successive overs from Buck before Cox (2) was caught off at extra cover from a leading edge off Zaib.
Tom Fell said “Early on with difficult conditions it certainly it was hard work. With the newer ball, it nipped around a lot and it felt like there was plenty in it.
“But as the day went on, probably with a bit more sun on the wicket, it felt like it slowed down a bit as the ball got older. It made it a little bit easier but there are still balls (wicket-taking balls) in it.
“It is still one of those pitches where you never really feel ‘in’ and you’ve got to really work hard for your runs and grind it out. On pitches like this, you do need a bit of luck.
“Is that the best I’ve played for a while? I think so. I’ve felt really good this season so far. I’ve had a few starts and feel like my game is as good as it’s been for a long, long time.
“It was nice to hang around for a bit longer today and get a few more. Obviously there are plenty more runs to get tomorrow to try and put ourselves into a good position to win this game.
What is the team thinking for tomorrow? “I think that is something we will talk about in the morning. It is a wicket where you can get 10 wickets in 60-70 overs. We will start again tomorrow and try and put ourselves in as strong a position as possible.”
On his fine catching performance, Fell said: “It is definitely one of those pitches where the slips are in the game and I’ve had three chances in the first innings that came nicely to me.