Richard Levi hit an unbeaten 157, his first County Championship century, as Northamptonshire dominated day two of their Division Two match with Essex at Wantage Road.
Levi’s highest score of his career took Northants to 397-6 at the close, a first innings lead of 121, the South African hitting 20 fours in his first century in First Class cricket since February 2013.
Having started the season opening the batting, Levi was moved down to number five, and shared consecutive half century stands with Rob Keogh, Josh Cobb, Ben Duckett and Steven Crook as Northants added 276 in the final two session to build a commanding lead.
The hosts’ could only add 12 to their overnight 43-0 before Masters removed Rob Newton for 36 in the eighth over of the day as Essex’s seamer bowled a tight line and length in the morning, restricting scoring.
It was Ravi Bopara’s introduction that removed both Stephen Peters and Alex Wakely, the later bowled for 11 from Bopara’s fifth delivery and with his eight Peters, who made 44, drove loosely and was well caught by a leaping Jesse Ryder at cover
The rest of the day would belong to Levi however, the South African initially playing the support role for Keogh, who looked fluent for his 36, but after a stand of 63 was bowled by Reece Topley.
With Cobb for company, Levi started to move through the gears, reaching his first half century of the campaign in 80 balls, while Cobb played positively from the outset, the pair adding 91 in just over 20 overs.
Cobb hit 40 to take Northants to within 28 of parity but fell to the final ball of the afternoon session, edging leg-spinner Adeel Malik to slip.
The new ball couldn’t stop Levi’s progress as he moved to 99 with the single that took Northants into the lead, and after surviving a loud LBW appeal off Graham Napier he drove the same bowler for his 13th boundary to reach three figures from 148 balls.
Duckett made a determined 20 in a third successive half century stand before being trapped LBW by Topley, but Levi continued and found another willing partner in Crook, who scored at more than a run a ball in his unbeaten 38.
By the close the pair had added another 82 to extend Northants lead into three figures, Levi reaching 150 in the penultimate over of the day, to pass his previous best of 150*, made for Western Province in 2007.
After being left out for the last three Championship games Levi said he had repaid some faith in him with his first four day century for Northants and thinks the hosts are in a strong positon.
“Any time you score a 100 is great but today being the first one for the club it’s repaid a bit of faith they’ve had in me, considering coming back into the side having missed three games, it was good to get a big score.
“It was a bit of a work in progress, four day stuff has not been my forte over the years, but I’ve done a bit of work behind the scenes and it seems to be coming off.
“It’s going to start becoming a very interesting wicket by teatime tomorrow so the more runs we get ahead I think you’ll see their heads drop so we’ll try and bat once and put a lot of pressure on.”
David Masters admitted it had been a long day for Essex bowlers and said the visitors will be looking to restrict Northants lead before making the most of their second opportunity with the bat.
“It was hard work, we kept running in trying to bowl in good areas and the wicket was pretty flat so it’s been a long day, there was half a dozen that have kept low but generally it’s a pretty docile wicket.
“I think the game plan will be to bowl them out in the morning session, try and be as less as we can behind and then get out there and get out heads down and get a decent score on the board.”