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

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, Chelmsford.

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.

Essex head coach Anthony McGrath: “Firstly, credit to Worcestershire. The partnership between Libby and Bernard was really good. They batted well.

“But there hasn’t been a lot in the wicket all game. We needed to make in-roads with the new ball, which we managed last night, but as we’ve seen through the three days that if someone has got through that then it is a pretty benign pitch.

“We knew leading up to the season that the ground was particularly dry for this time of year.

“People talk about us not scoring enough runs at home but in this match we have scored a lot of runs but haven’t taken the wickets. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

“There is still a day left so I wouldn’t be going anywhere yet. As we have seen over the last couple of years anything can happen here.

“We still have a healthy lead and if we can go bang-bang in the morning then we will be trying to push the game forward.”

Worcestershire all-rounder Ed Barnard, who is 116 not out having scored his maiden first-class century: “It was a case of batting as long as we can and trying to save the game. We saw it was a good pitch and knew it could be done so we just had to get a head start and get on with it.

“It has been a monkey on my back, not having that hundred, so it is really pleasing to do it eventually. It has been a long time coming.

“Like I have said before I want to bat at five or six, so if I can put in more performances like today then that will go a long way to showing I can do that.

“Jake has been outstanding since he arrived here and has fit into the squad. His performances last year were exceptional and for him to start this season like that is great for him and great for us as a side.

“Hopefully that will put a marker in the sand for all of us and we can go a long way in this competition.

“When there is someone at the other end who is confident it makes it easier. It gives you the calmness and the confidence you can do it as well.”