On day three of the LV=County Championship match against Gloucestershire at Cheltenham, Jake Libby resumed his phenomenal run of form to move promotion-chasing Worcestershire into a position of strength.
Libby, Worcestershire’s best run-scorer this season, hit an effortless 117 to guide his team to 316 for 8 in their second innings and build a comfortable 421-run advantage heading into the final day.
Skipper Brett D’Oliveira scored 46 and contributed to a 114-run fifth-wicket stand with Libby, who now has 909 first-class runs at an average of 56.81 this summer, while Matthew Waite hammered 62 off 32 balls.
Paul van Meekeren grabbed his first first-class five-for to give Gloucestershire fans something to smile about, bringing his match haul to nine.
Ollie Price had previously produced a stunning career-best 115-run effort, dominating a 111-run fifth-wicket partnership with his brother, Tom, who scored 46.
However, Joe Leach, Dillon Pennington, and Adam Finch each took three wickets as Worcestershire knocked the hosts out for 301 to take a 105-run first-innings advantage.
A declaration is expected in the morning, following which Gloucestershire will almost certainly be tasked with batting for the better part of three sessions to preserve the game.
Worcestershire found fast runs more challenging to get by the second time but will have been heartened by the sight of Zafar Gohar extracting the rare turn during the final session.
Gloucestershire did everything they could to impede Worcestershire’s progress, with Tom Price dismissing Gareth Roderick, van Meekeren dismissing Azhar Ali and Kashif Ali in short succession, and Zafar dismissing Adam Hose for 21.
But Libby and D’Oliveira grabbed over, punishing anything short and wide from the seamers and progressively speeding as the shine on the ball faded and the bowlers tired.
Libby clipped Ollie Price off his legs for two to go to his third hundred of the season and 15th of his career from 154 balls, while D’Oliveira nearly missed out on his second half-century of the match, cutting to backward point and became van Meekeren’s third batter.
Libby’s 171-ball innings was cut short when the opener pulled van Meekeren to square leg. But there was still time for Waite to add to Gloucestershire’s misery, smacking half a dozen sixes on his way to 50 off 22 balls.
Worcestershire needed to effectively use the new ball, which was taken early in the morning session if they were to have a genuine chance of forcing a result.
Pennington took wickets with his first two deliveries from the Chapel End to virtually end Gloucestershire’s chances of establishing a first-innings advantage.
While driving, Tom Price deflected an inside edge onto his stumps and was out for a 98-ball 46, Jack Taylor went for a golden duck, trapped lbw inside his crease, and Gohar subsequently survived the hat-trick ball.
Gloucestershire were thankful to Ollie Price for the second time this season, who continued to serve up defiance in spades.
His double first-class hundred, which came on the heels of his debut at Headingley last month, took 245 balls and was highlighted by his 13th four, a square cut-off Leach, which brought the Festival audience to its feet.
Since graduating from Durham University earlier this summer, the youthful Academy product has scored 420 runs at an average of 84 and established himself as a consistent top-order regular.
He ruled for over six hours in a lengthy session that ended abruptly when he drove Waite to short mid-on with a score of 267.
The tail unraveled rapidly after Gloucestershire’s centurion returned to the dressing room, with Finch claiming three wickets in eight balls from the Chapel End to end the game in the last over before lunch.
After contributing four runs from 67 balls in a 31-run seventh-wicket partnership with Price, Gohar went on the attack and moved to 20 before being caught by Josh Baker at silly mid-on.
Matt Taylor hooked Finch for six over square leg to climb 300 and collect a second batting bonus point before falling to the following ball, which Roderick caught at short third man.
Gloucestershire only added 89 runs to their overnight total, with Worcestershire collecting the six wickets required in 34.2 overs.