Career-best bowling by Liam Plunkett was in danger of going to waste for LV County Championship leaders Durham when they slumped to one for three at Riverside against Division One’s bottom club, Worcestershire.

But they recovered to finish on 40 for three after the visitors were dismissed for 193, with Plunkett taking six for 63.

With the ball swinging in the heavy conditions, Durham lost two wickets in successive balls to Kabir Ali without a run on the board. Michael Di Venuto got a thick inside edge into his leg stump, then Will Smith lost his off stump.

Gordon Muchall pushed forward and edged Matt Mason to reserve wicketkeeper Josh Knappet, bringing in Dale Benkenstein to join Kyle Coetzer, who looked comfortable in reaching 20 at the close.

Plunkett missed the three successive wins which took Durham to the top through a groin injury but he and Mark Davies were welcomed back in the absence of Graham Onions and Steve Harmison on England Lions duty.

That was more than cancelled out by the visitors being without three of their top six batsmen – Vikram Solanki, Stephen Moore and Steven Davies – for the same reason.

The fact that Ben Smith was their only experienced batsman would have contributed to the decision to put them in but Daryl Mitchell and 19-year-old Dutch international Alexei Kervezee survived the new-ball spell from Callum Thorp and Mitch Claydon.

It was Davies who made the breakthrough in his first appearance of the season after an ankle operation.

Coming on at 15 for none after 12 overs, he had Kervezee caught at second slip by Di Venuto with his ninth ball.

After a wayward opening, Plunkett was handed his first wicket by a loose shot by Mitchell, who edged to Phil Mustard, but he earned the last five wickets of the innings in a lengthy afternoon spell.

His previous best was six for 74 at home to Hampshire in 2004.

The key wickets were those of Gareth Batty and Ashley Noffke, who put on 57 after coming together at 80 for five.

Batty had his off stump knocked out by a superb delivery and Noffke departed for 50 when he skied an attempted hook to Mustard. The last four wickets went down for six runs as Kabir fended a low catch to gully after making 28 then Chris Whelan had his off stump rattled and Mason edged to third slip.

Earlier, Worcestershire received 28 days’ notice of approach from Kent for paceman Whelan. But they have responded by indicating Whelan will be offered a new deal with his current one expiring at the end of this season.