Worcestershire were again indebted to their middle and lower order batsmen with Ross Whiteley, Ben Cox and Joe Leach scoring half centuries on day one of the Specsavers County Championship clash with Northamptonshire at Wantage Road.

Skipper Daryl Mitchell opted to bat on winning the toss and Worcestershire gave a Championship debut to all-rounder George Rhodes.

A fine opening spell from Azharullah reduced them to 54-5.

But the last five wickets added 223 runs with Whiteley and Cox putting on 129 for the sixth wicket and Leach and Matt Henry involved in a last wicket partnership of 50 to take the final total to 277 off 76.4 overs.

Then Leach, the County's leading wicket-taker, struck three early blows in removing Ben Duckett, Rob Keogh and Rob Newton as Northants closed on 64-3 from 17 overs.

Azharullah struck in his first over when a swinging yorker knocked out Mitchell's leg stump for a single.

Runs were hard to come by in the early stages and it became 11-2 in the 10th over when Brett D'Oliveira (four off 34 balls) was caught off a leading edge at mid wicket off Azharullah.

Tom Fell took 16 balls to get off the mark but looked in good touch and cover-drove Azharullah for two boundaries in an over.

Joe Clarke (4) became Azharullah's third victim when he looped a catch up to extra cover and then the same bowler had Tom Kohler-Cadmore (6) caught behind.

Azharullah was rested after an open spell of 9-4-20-4.

Fell hit six boundaries in his 37 off 50 balls but he shouldered arms to Ben Sanderson and was bowled at 54-5 in the 20th over.

Rain meant an early lunch was taken at 63-5 off 23.2 overs but then Whiteley and Cox launched an impressive counter-attack.

Whiteley collected three fours in an Azharullah over which cost 16 runs and went to his fourth half century of the season off 61 balls with one six and eight fours.

He was dropped at mid wicket off Monty Panesar when on 51 and in the same over smashed the former England spinner for six over long off.

The 100 stand came up in 24.1 overs and then Cox went to his third Championship half century of 2016 from 82 deliveries with seven fours.

The stand was broken after 30.3 overs when Whiteley (66) pushed forward to Steven Crook and was bowled.

Cox advanced to 74 before he edged Sanderson through to first slip and then Rhodes (14) was lbw to the same bowler.

It became 227-9 when Ed Barnard (2) was bowled by Seekkuge Prasanna but then Leach and Henry, who came into the side for Kyle Abbott as the overseas player, provided stern resistance and secured a second batting point.

Leach followed up his 90 and 64 not out against Leicestershire by reaching his half century off 68 balls and three boundaries.

The innings ended when Henry was bowled by Prasanna (13) to leave Leach unbeaten on 51.

Leach was soon back in the thick of the action as he added to his total of 31 Championship wickets.

Duckett (4) was lbw in Leach's first over and Keogh (4) was drawn forward and nicked through to keeper Cox to leave Northants on 18-2.

Leach's 34th wicket of the campaign was soon arriving as Newton (15) fell to a fine catch at first slip by Kohler-Cadmore. He then had figures of 3-17 with Northants wobbling on 35-3.

Northants, after a short break for rain, eventually closed on 64-3 from 17 overs with Leach ending the day with figures of 8-1-28-3.