Brett Hutton took 6 for 57 to help Northamptonshire bowl Worcestershire out for just 186 on the first afternoon at Wantage Road before Alex Wakely and Rob Keogh shared a century stand for the third wicket as the home side then replied with 140 for 3.
Hutton’s first five wickets came in the opening 50 minutes of play as he shot out the visitors’ top order. But from 108 for 8 just after lunch, Jack Leach made a 38-ball fifty to help cobble something together for the visitors after choosing to bat first.
Twice Hutton was on a hat-trick as he claimed his eighth first-class five-wicket haul on a breezy day in Northampton.
He began with a perfect delivery that moved away to flick the off bail of Championship debutant Jack Haynes and soon trapped Callum Furguson lbw for 1 shuffling across his stumps.
Alex Milton nicked a lifter to wicketkeeper Adam Rossington and although Riki Wessels survived the hat-trick ball and sliced an edged at catchable height past between third and fourth slips, he soon fell for 6, lbw to Hutton.
Next delivery Ben Cox edged to Rob Keogh at third slip but in his next over, Moeen Ali kept out Hutton’s second hat-trick ball of the morning.
Moeen’s return for Worcestershire was very unconvincing. Very short of form this summer, he looked very unsure, driving loosely and twice in successive balls from Hutton, on 12 and 16, should have been held behind the wicket. Slicing past third slip’s shoulder and then between the wicketkeeper and first slip. He also drove in the air through cover before eventually slapping Nathan Buck to extra-cover. 42 may look reasonable on the card but in terms of playing himself back into form, this knock would have counted for little.
By contrast Ed Barnard looked very assured, leaving the ball well and surviving 79 deliveries for a calm, composed 27 before he dragged Dwaine Pretorius into his stumps.
His was the second wicket to fall after lunch after Hutton struck again just after the break, finding the outside edge of Wayne Parnell whose chancy 30 was ended by Rob Keogh’s catch. But from 108 for 8, Worcestershire added very useful runs, including a 52-run stand for the 10th wicket.
Leach led the progress making a merry unbeaten 53 playing positive but never reckless strokes. Josh Tongue providing competent company in making 20 before edging Nathan Buck to first slip.
In reply, Rob Newton dragged Tongue into his stumps for 2 and Ben Curran was given out lbw to Parnell for 10 – but replays suggested the ball would have missed leg stump and was possibly high too.
But Wakely and Keogh ensured Northants ended the first day firmly on top. Wakely skipped down the wicket to lift Moeen over long-on for six and turned Leach through square-leg for a sixth four to reach fifty in 101 balls – his third in the Championship this summer. He went to the close 63 not out.
Keogh wristily drove Leach through the covers to raise the half-century stand and punched Moeen past extra-cover before competing his own fifty in 60 balls. But with six overs remaining in the day, went to work Parnell through midwicket and got a leading edge that was sharply held by Mitchell at second slip. It rewarded a sustained period of pressure from Parnell and Moeen and forced Buck to come out as nightwatchman to see out the day – he got within three balls of doing so before ducking into a bouncer from Tongue, forcing play to a marginally premature end.
Worcestershire 186 (Hutton 6/57, Buck 2/31)
Northamptonshire 140/3 (Wakely 63*, Keogh 53)
Northamptonshire trail by 46 runs.