Comeback kid Shahzad blows away Worcs
Sussex 345 (Machan 135, Wright 51) and 290 (Joyce 82, Machan 55, Senanayake 4-50) beat Worcestershire 389 (Oliver 101, Kervezee 93, Andrew 70) and 185 (Shahzad 5-46) by 61 runs
It is not hard to imagine Ajmal Shahzad playing in England's Test series in the West Indies. When he was thrust into international cricket five years ago, Shahzad bowled with zest, displaying pace, a potent yorker and a penchant for reverse swing. He also marked himself out as a cricketer of audacity: with England needing 11 from four balls against India in the 2011 World Cup, Shahzad promptly harrumphed his first ball for a straight six.
Few would have envisaged the troubles that have befallen Shahzad since. Age and experience have only seemed to make him more inconsistent. Last year he mustered only the 18 Championship wickets at 40.55 for Nottinghamshire, and spent vast swathes of the season languishing in second-team cricket. At 29, he was shaping up as a squandered talent.
Sussex is Shahzad's fourth county in four seasons: his search for reinvigoration has taken him from Yorkshire to Lancashire on loan and then through two unfulfilling seasons at Trent Bridge. Perhaps all he needed - like Chris Jordan, James Anyon and Mushtaq Ahmed before him - was the sea breeze at Hove.
"If I could have turned back time I would have loved to have just stayed at one club," Shahzad said. "It comes down to TLC really."
Tender loving care is something Sussex certainly know how to provide. Shahzad's exuberant celebration - jabbing the air like a boxer shaping up for a fight - could become a familiar sight at Hove this season. On this occasion it was spotted five times as Shahzad claimed his best first-class figures and what was, remarkably, only the fourth five-for of his career, and the first since 2011.
If that statistic attests to how far he has lost his way, Shahzad showed that his raw talent remains undimmed. After Steve Magoffin had snared Daryl Mitchell lbw to end Worcestershire's opening stand of 57, Shahzad produced a compelling display of fast-bowling quality. Exploding into the crease after a deceptively languid run-up, he moved the ball at pace with conventional and then reverse swing, throwing in yorkers for shock effect: one removed Richard Oliver for a carefully compiled 27; another left Gareth Andrew with only his leg stump for company.
Not bad for someone who spent most of the first two days ill, which limited Shahzad to 13 overs in the first innings. "I looked at myself in the mirror and thought 'I have a special feeling about today'. I felt as if I owed it to the lads," he said. But it was not as if Shahzad had begun the season badly when he wasn't unwell: he took six wickets and scored crucial runs in the victory over Hampshire last week.
He has made quite an impression on Ed Joyce, his captain. With the metronomic Steve Magoffin for company, Joyce has resolved to let Shahzad loose. "Whenever he's tried something it tends to come off," Joyce said. "He's a massive extrovert in a quiet changing room which has been great for us."
Add in his counter-punching batting at No. 8 - he has made at least 28 in all four innings so far - and Shahzad has underpinned Sussex's magnificent start. They are on top of the table with two victories, albeit against both promoted sides. "We can win the Championship but there are probably a couple of stronger squads out there," Joyce said.
Worcestershire have very different ambitions, desperate to avoid being relegated for the fifth time since the creation of two divisions. The side has displayed tenacity in the first two games, earning first-innings leads on both occasions, before second-innings collapses have consigned them to defeat.
"We did say all the time that we thought they might have a dodgy session," Joyce said. It did not come until the fourth day but the effect was to undo all Worcestershire's sterling work over the preceding three.
Worcestershire's opening stand brought the runs required below 200 and they had strong reason to consider themselves favourites, with Mitchell and Oliver both batting assuredly. A couple of batsmen, chiefly Alex Gidman, might reflect on unfortunate lbw decisions but others were complicit in their own downfall: Tom Kohler-Cadmore's aberrant second-ball waft outside off stump was particularly regrettable.
That Ben Cox and Charles Morries managed a 51-run stand for the final wicket only made defeat more galling. Worcestershire encountered a high-quality pace display from Sussex - but that is the norm in Division One.
Still, if Worcestershire are in need of inspiration they need only look at the identity of their main destroyer. Shahzad is rapidly shaping up as Sussex's latest comeback kid.
Tim Wigmore is the author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts