JAKE Libby continued his Bob Willis Trophy form into the LV= Insurance County Championship as he and Ed Barnard both struck unbeaten centuries for Worcestershire against Essex.

Libby scored 498 first-class runs in 2020, with only Alastair Cook collecting more, and began his 2021 with a durable 141 from 369 balls.

All-rounder Barnard, whose previous best score in first-class cricket was 75, confidently partnered Libby to score 116 in an unbroken seventh-wicket stand worth 205, a county record versus Essex.

Riki Wessels also scored 54 as Worcestershire passed the follow-on target and reduced Essex’s 490 to a deficit of 140 by close on day three at the Cloudfm County Ground.

Worcestershire started the day still reeling after Sam Cook had destroyed their top order with three wickets in five balls on the second evening.

The fast bowler turned that into four scalps in 11 balls, albeit spilt over different spells, when he had nightwatchman Brett D'Oliveira lbw to the second ball of the day - a stunner of a delivery which jagged in off the seam.

But from then on, the pattern of Essex innings repeated, as work was needed to score runs on a lifeless wicket.

Libby followed the Tom Westley, who had scored a watchful double century on the opening two days, mould - with substance preferred over substance. Although unlike Westley, who dominated his scoring through the legside, Libby’s wagon wheel left few areas untouched.

There was the odd moment of style in Libby’s innings, typified by the straight drive to reach a 110-ball 50 off Simon Harmer and to move to 97 off Jamie Porter. His seventh career century came soon after with a pushed two to square leg.

Wessels provided flair through a series of offside boundaries as he scored a half-century in 82 balls during an 89-run stand with Libby for the fifth wicket.

He departed when a lack of foot movement saw him lbw to Porter, before Ben Cox followed when he missed a sweep off Harmer and was pinned.

It was rarely pretty stuff from Libby and Barnard, who had now joined him, but it handed Essex a taste of what they had been forced to endure over the majority of the opening two days.

Essex’s frustrations manifest themselves midway through the evening session when Cook, in his follow-through, flung the ball through second slip for four.

A 100 partnership and Barnard’s fifty – coming up in 278 and 90 balls – were bypassed as the second new ball was negotiated without fuss.

Barnard, who hadn’t reached three figures at any level of cricket since a 117 for Shrewsbury in 2017, took himself to the milestone for the first time in first-class matches with a tucked two into the leg side – raising his bat to a raucously proud dressing room balcony.

The follow-on was averted and the 200-run partnership reached as Worcestershire headed into the final day on an equal footing to the reigning champions.