Riki Wessels produced an innings of star quality as Worcestershire CCC seized the initiative on day two of the Bob Willis Trophy encounter with Northamptonshire at Wantage Road.
Wessels, who received splendid support from Ben Cox during a century stand, took the fight to the Northamptonshire in still bowler-friendly conditions on the second morning after Worcestershire had resumed on 93-5 after a rain-hit opening day.
He reeled off a series of stunning attacking strokes in racing to 88 from just 78 balls with 12 boundaries.
Wessels, the County’s leading scorer in the County Championship and Vitality Blast last summer, has not had many opportunities to spend a sizeable amount of time in the middle so far this summer because of the prolific form shown by Jake Libby, Brett D’Oliveira and Daryl Mitchell in the top order.
But today he sparkled when Worcestershire were requiring a substantial contribution from one of their middle order batsmen and also found a willing ally in the in-form Cox.
The pair added 128 in 28 overs for the sixth wicket with Cox (39) once again chipping in with useful runs to go alongside his exemplary wicket-keeping as Worcestershire reached 219 all out in 64.3 overs.
Worcestershire resumed on 93-5 from 37.5 overs under murky skies with Wessels unbeaten on five and Cox four not out.
Northamptonshire paceman Nathan Buck began proceedings with a maiden to Wessels but then he and Cox cut loose in superb fashion.
Wessels cover drove Buck for four to bring up the 100 and Cox cut the same bowler to the boundary as 25 runs came from six overs before the first hand sanitising break.
Wessels found the bowling of Gareth Berg to his liking as he collected three boundaries in an over and then drilled Buck over long on to the ropes.
Cox brought the 150 up with a single off Jack White.
Wessels reached an excellent half century off 46 balls with his eighth boundary – a slash down to third man off White.
Blessing Muzarabani came into the attack and conceded a single to Wessels which brought up the century partnership from just 126 balls.
A first batting point was secured in the 56th over and Wessels looked on course for a deserved hundred when he was bowled by spinner Saif Zaib.
Cox’s excellent support role to Wessels in full flight ended in the next over when he went to pull Muzarabani and bottom edged onto his stumps.
It was the first time he had been dismissed this season after scores of 45 not out, 33 not out and 23 not out in his previous three knocks.
Ed Barnard (0) – victim of a fine low catch in the deep by Ben Curran of Zaib – Club Captain Joe Leach (5) – lbw to Muzzarabani – and Dillon Pennington (0) – taken at first slip off the same bowler – were the last three wickets to fall.
Muzarabani was the pick of the Northamptonshire bowlers today and ended with 4-29 from 12.3 overs.
The home side survived one over before lunch but Leach quickly made a breakthrough in his second over.
Ricardo Vasconcelos (4) could only nick a fine delivery to Tom Fell who held a sharp low chance at third slip.
Tongue then deceived Ben Curran (14) with a delivery which he flicked high into the air and into the safe hands of Jack Haynes at square leg.
Barnard came into the attack and struck twice in the space of four overs.
Richard Wakely (9) went for a cut shot and Wessels at first slip reacted sharply to hold onto a chance above his head.
Richard Levi (11) pushed half forward and Daryl Mitchell grasped the chance away to his right at second slip.
Northants had reached 90-4 from 29 overs when rain led to an early tea with Leach having figures of 8-1-33-1, Pennington 9-4-27-0, Tongue 5-2-10-1 and Barnard 7-4-12-2.
A delighted Riki Wessels said: “It has been quite nice to watch the other guys peel off the runs the last couple of weeks but to actually get a chance to bat with more than a few overs left in the innings was quite nice.
“Batting at number six with the 120 overs rule, you get into positions where you sometimes won’t have long to bat and then you have games like this when you come in a bit earlier.
“There were two ways of looking at it – trying to stick in there and hopefully not get out to a good ball or try and chance my arm a bit and try and knock them off their lengths and get them to try and do something different with their game plans. Today it worked.
“The outfield was pretty slow as well and so I tried to take as much out of the equation as possible by hitting balls in the air.
“The boys have taken four wickets and it tends to be a quick-moving game here. The one here last week was over in two days and the aim is to try and make sure we are on the right end of the result.
“There have been 14 wickets go down for 300 runs so it has not been particularly easy to score. We have to come out tomorrow morning and try and take some early wickets.”