JOE Leach claimed three wickets on the opening day of Worcestershire’s Specsavers County Championship Division Two match at Gloucestershire.

But with Ryan Higgins smacking 13 fours in a sparkling 76 and Tom Smith hitting an unbeaten 79 the hosts could feel well satisfied with a first innings total of 339-7.

Higgins’ innings took his tally of Championship runs for the season past the 700 mark at an average of 70.8. He also boasts 28 wickets and is emerging as one of the most prolific all-rounders in the country.

Smith is relishing a move up the batting order having made a career-best 84 in the previous game against Leicestershire at the College Ground, his only other Championship appearance this season.

The day began in encouraging fashion for Worcestershire after exercising their right to field first in overcast conditions.

With only the fourth ball of the game, Leach found the edge of Miles Hammond’s bat and wicketkeeper Ben Cox held a routine catch.

Dent and Gareth Roderick then saw off the new ball with a half-century stand in 17 overs. They had taken the total to 70 when Roderick, on 40, attempted to drive Dillon Pennington and Callum Ferguson took a sharp chance at gully.

It was 86 for two at lunch and 92-3 when James Bracey who had not looked comfortable, departed in unusual fashion to Leach, Ferguson parrying a high catch at third slip into the hands of Riki Wessels at first.

Chris Dent went to a solid fifty off 114 balls, with 5 fours, and was looking well set when edging Leach through to Cox, who claimed his 300th first class catch for Worcestershire, only the sixth wicketkeeper to do so in the county’s history.

At 125-4, Gloucestershire appeared in some peril. But Higgins quickly went on the counter-attack, at one point hitting six fours in the space of 10 deliveries faced with sweet shots all around the wicket in reaching a 32-ball fifty.

He and Smith added 60 in just six overs to transform the innings and by tea had taken their stand to 126, with Higgins on 75 and Smith, having reached a 110-ball half-century off the final delivery before the interval.

The second over after tea saw Higgins well caught by Cox attempting to sweep Brett D’Oliveira with the total on 253.

Jack Taylor contributed only 10 before driving a catch to mid-on off the same bowler.

But Smith, who had been dropped on 39 by Wessels at short cover off D’Oliveira, moved relentless on and found another effective partner in Benny Howell, who helped add 58 before cutting Wayne Parnell straight to gully and departing for 36.

Smith produced some fine shots of his own amid watchful defence.

When bad light ended play four overs early, Gloucestershire were 11 runs short of a fourth batting point and had 18 more overs to claim a fifth.