Worcestershire 321 for 6 (Wessels 118, Whitely 62*, Dell 61) lead Durham 273 by 48 runs
With an impressive history of success across all formats, Riki Wessels was not short of possible destinations when he left Nottinghamshire at the end of last season. Yet he chose Worcester, much to the excitement of supporters who had seen his destructive qualities at first hand last summer.
Wessels smashed nine sixes in a Vitality Blast T20 match on this ground in August, in an 18-ball 55 that launched Nottinghamshire towards a five-wicket win, a rare setback in a campaign that ended with Worcestershire being crowned T20 champions for the first time.
New Road, he said, was his favourite ground outside Trent Bridge, which showed him to be a man of taste. As if to underline his liking for the place, he celebrated his first Championship appearance here by scoring his 23rd first-class hundred.
It was a typically energetic Wessels knock, one made with a constant eye for a gap in the field and a willingness to take the initiative. Before his arrival at the crease, Worcestershire were progressing at barely two an over against a disciplined and testing Durham attack. He doubled that almost on his own.
That is not intended as a criticism. Having lost Daryl Mitchell to the second ball of the innings on Tuesday evening, Worcestershire quickly suffered two more setbacks as a lively new ball spell from Matt Salisbury accounted for Tom Fell and nightwatchman Charlie Morris, leaving a rebuilding job in the hands of George Rhodes, whose struggle for form last year meant he had not played a Championship match in 11 months, and Josh Dell, a 21-year-old academy graduate making his debut. Their watchful approach was entirely the correct one.
Dell made a handsome start, executing a lovely late cut for four off Matthew Potts to get off the mark. The right-hander, born in the county at Tenbury Wells, was given his chance after carrying his bat for 131 in a Second XI match against a decent Lancashire attack last month, but he was never likely to imagine that the transition would be easy.
A Worcestershire collapse in the circumstances would not have been at all surprising but Rhodes and Dell stood firm and taking their side to 57 at lunch with no further losses was a commendable effort.
They were unable to maintain their defiance far into the afternoon session before Rhodes was pinned leg before by Ben Raine. But Dell was not to be shifted for some while, raising his bat to warm applause after his eighth boundary, steered to third man off Rushworth, took him to his half-century.
By this point he was playing second fiddle to Wessels, who had drawn on his depth of experience to take control away from Durham’s quintet of seamers for the first time in the day. He got into his stride with two consecutive boundaries off Salisbury and did the same to Potts in the next over.
Durham turned to Liam Trevaskis, a 20-year-old left-arm spinner playing in only his fourth first-class match, at which Wessels’s eyes lit up. Twice in four deliveries, he lofted the ball into the seats at the Diglis End, the second one ending in a dark corner somewhere and needing to be replaced.
Wessels was enjoying himself now. His fifty came up off 56 balls, including a third maximum off the unfortunate Trevaskis, and when he and Dell touched gloves to celebrate a 100-stand in 19 overs, Wessels had 73 of them.
Dell’s vigil ended on 61 off 175 balls when he was bowled by a ball of full length from Gareth Harte, before Wessels mistimed one to be caught at midwicket for 118 off 133.
Durham took the second new ball when it was due but did not profit from it. Instead, Ross Whiteley punished them for dropping him on five, when Salisbury spilled a boundary catch at long leg that sprang out of his hands as he landed, by muscling his way to an unbeaten 62, adding 85 unbroken with Ben Cox to give Worcestershire a lead of 48 to take into the third day.