Essex 512 for 4 (Westley 238*, Bopara 99, ten Doeschate 77*) lead Worcestershire 230 (Cox 63, Rhodes 59, Masters 7-52) by 282 runs Scorecard
"It's not very often I bat a whole day," said Tom Westley, as he mopped the sweat away from his reddened face and scratched a beard that may not have been there when he began this innings. He is, at the time of writing, unbeaten on 238 from 361 balls. His maiden double hundred arrived from 319 balls and provided Essex with the brunt of a dominant performance that saw the hosts hammer Worcestershire for 401 runs in the day.
Talk of Tom Westley's feats this season bring with it the caveat of Division Two cricket. And that is right up to a point: James Vince's Test form may have put the feats of second-tier stylists into context. But Westley's is a case that deserves to be heard. He is a player in the form of his life, with an appreciation of his batting that has matured from flaky to reliable without any loss of indulgence.
Yesterday's portion of his innings saw him bring up four figures in the Championship for the first time in his career. If that surprises somewhat, then factor in that this is the first season in which Westley has struck more than two red-ball centuries. And he only previously managed multiple centuries in 2012, both in Championship cricket. When he reached 100 today, from 182 balls - his fifth of 2016 - he became the third Essex batsman to score three Championship hundreds, alongside Alastair Cook and Dan Lawrence.
Even as early as the start of May, Westley knew he was onto something: runs came better and quicker than they ever have. Even abject failure from now until the season's end will leave him with his best season average. Currently, only Jonny Bairstow has more first-class runs in 2016.
He cannot quite put his finger on what has given him this extra push, but he does credit age - at 27, this is his 10th season of first-class cricket - and a winter spent working with Andy Flower, Graham Thorpe and Gary Kirsten on the England Lions tour in the UAE. There were not too many adjustments but enough to allow him to embrace his leg-side game, without leaving him susceptible outside off.
Having started the season well, with a notable century against Sri Lanka, he dipped through the middle but was buoyed by a one-day hundred and "quite a few fifties" to reassure himself that the purple patch was still going. Once the previous personal best of 185 was out of the way, thoughts turned to the double hundred.
Westley's ability to find midwicket is unparalleled in the domestic game and often sees him spoilt for company when new to the crease. In the corresponding fixture at New Road earlier this year, he was greeted with four midwicket fielders in the second innings after reeling off 125 in the first. Aided by a bottom hand that wraps all the way around his bat handle, he is able to punch and drive through the region with ease. Today, even his forward defence seemed to send the ball in that direction. Fittingly, on 199, he beat the three fielders stationed there for the boundary that took him to 203.
The number of balls he sent in that particular direction made Chelmsford seem like a slanted pool table, as the majority of his 37 boundaries were collected from the midwicket rope. Try as they might, Worcestershire could not find the appropriate book or folded bit of paper to level things up.
What success they had was erased by what followed. Cook nicked off for 66 after bringing up his second fifty of the season, which made way for a 213-run partnership between Westley and Ravi Bopara. When Worcestershire then took two wickets for one run, Ryan ten Doeschate ran them - and Westley - ragged to score his fifth Championship half-century in a row. A real salt-in-the-wounds partnership brought up 100 in 101 balls.
If there was one blot for Essex, it was a 99 for Bopara. After 18 Championship innings, he is still without a century this season, despite six fifties including a previous season-best of 94. He looked as good as he has done, playing with time and panache - the sort of innings you expect from Bopara. In among the 16 crisp boundaries was a six off George Rhodes that cleared the sight screen and cannoned off a house at the Hayes Close end and into its garden. However, the pursuit of three figures is proving a struggle for a man weighed down by his sheer volume of nineties in the past three seasons.
"You know I'm not going to get a hundred, right?" he joked to Westley, as the landmark loomed. A short ball from Jack Shantry was smashed to square leg for four, to take him to 99. The very next delivery, Bopara plopped forward, perhaps looking for a single into the off side, and edge through to Ross Whiteley. "He was right," remarked a sympathetic Westley. Should Bopara not complete the journey to three figures with his remaining innings, it will be the first time since 2004 that he has not scored at least one first class hundred in a season.