Worcestershire all-rounder Ross Whiteley thrived on the responsibility of being promoted up a rejigged batting line-up with a season’s best score of 91 against leaders Surrey in the Specsavers County Championship clash at Blackfinch New Road.
Whiteley is accustomed to batting at six or seven but the absence of injured skipper Brett D’Oliveira and Ben Cox gave him the chance to bat go in at number five – and he grabbed it with both hands.
He was within nine runs of a deserved first Championship hundred in three years when he was undone by a ball of extra bounce from Morne Morkel which was pouched by Ollie Pope in the gulley.
But by then he had shepherded bottom placed Worcestershire from 88-3 to within two runs of a second batting point.
Tom Fell, recently converted into the opening role, and Ed Barnard also weighed in with crucial half centuries after Worcestershire had elected to bat as they reached 288-6 off 94.1 overs.
It was a heartening display of resilience, application and determination against their high-flying opponents.
Surrey went into the game needing to accrue six more points than nearest challengers Somerset picked up from their clash with Hampshire at the Ageas Bowl to achieve that goal.
They bowled well and in the morning session beat the bat on many occasions but there was a resolve about the Worcestershire batting line-up which stood them in good stead.
Worcestershire handed a Championship debut to Second Eleven captain Ollie Westbury who played in the same England Under-19s side as Surrey and England batsman Ollie Pope.
Daryl Mitchell took over the captaincy of the side for the first time in two years in the absence of D’Oliveira and provided Surrey with their only success of the morning session. He edged Jade Dernbach through to Rory Burns at third slip after making 13.
Fell, who scored a season’s best 88 when the sides met at the Kia Oval in May, and Westbury dug in either side of lunch against some probing bowling to add 66 in 30 overs.
But Tom Curran bowled an excellent post interval spell which brought him two wickets in the space of four balls.
Westbury (22) was bowled after being caught on the crease and Joe Clarke (0) fell for a third ball duck with Rikki Clarke taking as splendid low catch at second slip.
Fell was then joined by Whiteley and they added 46 before the former’s resistance came to an end when he tried to work Rikki Clarke through mid wicket and was trapped lbw for 69 after striking 11 fours in his 163 ball knock.
Alex Milton (7) nicked Morkel through to Ben Foakes but then Whiteley and Barnard came together for the most fluent batting of the day.
Their sixth wicket partnership added 83 in only 22 overs and it came out of the blue when Whiteley’s 142 ball – containing 14 boundaries – was ended by fourth over of the second new ball from Morkel.
But that only served to inspire Barnard to even greater efforts and three boundaries in an over from Dernbach took him to his fifty off 69 balls with 10 fours.
He ended the day unbeaten on 63 – just 12 short of his career best.