Shahzad burst sparks Lancashire
Middlesex 155 for 5 trail Lancashire 392 (Prince 144) by 237 runs
Yorkshire's hierarchy have made their views on Ajmal Shahzad abundantly clear, but even the most suspicious of Lancastrians is beginning to be won around by his commitment to lift their fortunes following his controversial loan move across the Pennines.
Criticised for his general attitude by Colin Graves, Yorkshire's outspoken chief executive, following their decision to release the first British Asian player to represent the county, he has attempted to distance himself from those remarks by reminding the cricket community that he is equally able to grab the headlines for his performances on the field.
Two wickets in his maiden over for Lancashire against Sussex, which included a wicket with his first delivery, have now been followed up an influential spell to enable the Champions - still looking for their first win of the season - to gain control in the Aigburth sunshine against a strong Middlesex line-up.
"Ajmal has fitted in really well, he tries his heart out and is always willing to bowl," said his new team-mate, Kyle Hogg. "He's a great bowler and a more than useful batsman as well. Having him here is good competition and it lifts everyone else's game because you know if you don't perform to certain levels there are people waiting in the wings.
"We have Sajid Mahmood and Oliver Newby not playing in this game - it's how it should be, if you are not performing people should take your place, it brings the best out of players."
Shahzad's fiery six-over burst after tea built on fine new ball spells from Glen Chapple, Lancashire's captain, and Hogg that accounted for both openers. Shahzad opened his account by tempting Joe Denly into chasing a wide delivery, which flew to point, but then claimed the crucial wicket of Eoin Morgan, playing his first Championship innings since last July.
His county cricket opportunities limited by England and IPL commitments, Morgan looked in good touch when he lofted Simon Kerrigan's left-arm spin over midwicket for six to get off the mark.
However, perhaps indicating a rustiness in his game having not played a first-class match since the final Test against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi last February, Morgan failed to spot an inswinging delivery from Shahzad, bowling from the River End, in the next over and when he tried to drive, the ball crashed into his stumps off an inside edge. The Aigburth crowd, basking in the late afternoon sunshine, were almost as excited as Shahzad at the breakthrough.
Kerrigan was able to dismiss Dawid Malan with a catch to bat-pad five overs later to leave Middlesex struggling on 95 for 5 and it took an unbroken 60-run stand between Neil Dexter and John Simpson to prevent them from collapsing in the final session.
Middlesex's fortunes were similar to Lancashire's with the bat. They resumed with sights set on reaching 400 for only the second time this summer on 276 for 4, but lost six for 71 and were dismissed for 392.
Ashwell Prince, Lancashire's South African overseas batsman, began the collapse when he was superbly caught by Ollie Rayner at slip driving at Gareth Berg for 144 after resuming on 121. Confidence lifted by that reflex catch, Rayner went on to claim 3 for 88 with his offspin as Lancashire went in search of quick runs to advance the game.
Facing a tricky 15 overs before tea, Middlesex suffered a bad start when Chris Rogers edged a lifting delivery from Hogg behind and Sam Robson fell lbw to a full length ball from Chapple that may have kept a little low. The afternoon sunshine, though, belonged to Shahzad.
Advised by his management company to avoid media interviews while the controversy over his switch continues, it was left to Hogg to reflect on Shahzad's impact since arriving at Old Trafford.
""He got a few good luck messages on Twitter when he signed for us!"joked Hogg. "Him and Saj are pretty much identical in character and it is good to have them around, especially on days like today when it can be tough going. They keep everyone going."