Riki Wessels gave Worcestershire the upper hand on the morning day two. His 88 in 78 balls hauled his side to 219 before Northamptonshire closed 90 for 4 as rain took out the final session.
Wessels struck 12 boundaries to give Worcestershire a useful score on a pitch offering help for the seamers. Without him, they would have very little after slipping to 84 for 5 and losing their last five wickets for only seven runs in 30 balls.
Last Sunday, Somerset reckoned that positive play was the only method to succeed and here Wessels followed suit. Three times he took respectable deliveries from just outside off over midwicket as Worcestershire sprung from 100 to 150 in only 33 balls.
Wessells cut Jack White to third man for his eighth boundary to raise a half-century in 46 deliveries but Saif Zaib’s left-arm spin proved too tempting as he chased a century. He crashed one boundary over mid-on before missing with a second attempted heave.
It ended a stand of 128 for the sixth wicket with Ben Cox, who cut, flicked and pulled Nathan Buck for three of his four boundaries as he made 39.
Wessels’ wicket prompted an extraordinary collapse as Cox dragged Blessing Muzarabani into his stumps, Ed Barnard, having not scored for 10 balls, ran at Zaib and skied a third catch of the innings to Ben Curran at deep point, Joe Leach was stuck in his crease and lbw to Muzarabani before Dillon Pennington poked the next ball to first slip.
But Worcestershire had reached a competitive total and when Barnard took two wickets after lunch, Northamptonshire were in trouble at 60 for 4.
Alex Wakely’s first innings of 2020 added nine before he slashed at a very wide delivery to toe-end a catch high to Wessels at first slip.
Then Richard Levi, like Wakely making his seasonal bow, pushed forward and edged to Daryl Mitchell at second slip.
Leach had struck first from round the wicket as Ricardo Vasconcelos, having edged Leach through the slips for four before lunch, pushed at a full ball and this edge carried to third slip where Tom Fell took a smart low catch towards his left boot.
Curran sweetly punched Leach off the back foot for four and then took a confident step down the wicket to whip him through midwicket working the angle. But he got caught in two minds in dealing with a back of a length ball from Josh Tongue and lobbed a catch to square leg off a top edge.
Wobbing, Charlie Thurston and Zaib settled the home side to tea with a brisk partnership. Thurston played two very pleasant back foot punches off Tongue among four boundaries in getting to 20 while Zaib’s 19 included pulling Leach over midwicket and onto the roof of the signal box where the ball remains.
Worcestershire 219 (Muzarabani 4/29, Buck 3/67)
Northamptonshire 90/4 (Thurston 20*, Zaib 19*)
Northamptonshire trail by 129.