Shahzad is Sussex’s leading wicket-taker so far this season with 22, but his absence from the field after taking two for 28 early on helped Middlesex to recover from 121 for five to 269 all out despite the best efforts of his fellow seamers Ollie Robinson, who impressed with four for 46, and Steve Magoffin, who with more good fortune could easily have finished with better figures than three for 61.
There were also a startling 60 extras in the Middlesex total – by far the highest contributor – and after Sussex lost Chris Nash, Matt Machan and Mike Yardy in struggling to 66 for three in reply in 16 overs’ batting in the evening sunshine, the day’s honours did look as if they had tilted away from the home side.
Angus Fraser, the Middlesex managing director of cricket, said: “It’s difficult to decide where this match is at the moment. We scored 269 but had a top score of only 38 and benefitted from those 60 extras. The pitch is hard but cracked in places so the odd ball will do something and it might do more as the game goes on. Has it been good bowling or poor batting so far? It’s been a strange sort of day.”
An overcast, hazy morning prompted Sussex’s decision to bowl first and, starting the day just three points behind Middlesex at the top of Division One, they were quickly vindicated.
Shahzad helped Magoffin to set the early tone by first reducing Middlesex to 10 for two against the new ball and then returning before the lunch interval to have James Franklin taken at second slip for a duck soon after Robinson had cut short an aggressive, counter-attacking 38 from Adam Voges, who hit seven fours.
Nick Compton battled hard to get Middlesex through to lunch on 87 for four, despite being beaten on several occasions outside off stump. Magoffin, indeed, was unlucky to have only the wicket of Sam Robson, caught behind driving loosely for eight, to show for his pre-lunch efforts.
Sussex were handicapped when Shahzad, who had also removed Nick Gubbins early on to a catch at long leg, left the field early in the afternoon session after bowling two balls of his tenth over but Robinson and Magoffin both bowled superbly to keep Middlesex under the cosh.
Compton had only converted his lunchtime 22 not out into a dogged 30 before he edged Robinson to Yardy’s left at second slip and then Magoffin finally got proper reward for his perseverance and skill by dismissing John Simpson and Neil Dexter in successive overs.
Left-hander Simpson had helped Dexter to add 48 for the sixth wicket before being pinned leg-before for 16 by a wicked break-back, and then Dexter’s 34 was ended by a snick to Ed Joyce at first slip.
At 174 for seven it seemed as if the Middlesex first innings would subside relatively meekly, and the total was only 203 when James Harris was undone by a ball from Robinson that leapt alarmingly at his throat and which he gloved through to Ben Brown, the wicketkeeper.
Matt Hobden, who bowled wastefully short overall and also sent down an unacceptable 11 no balls, did manage to get Ollie Rayner leg-before for 17 but Toby Roland-Jones and Steven Finn added an invaluable 38 in seven overs for the last wicket until the hard-hitting Roland-Jones holed out to deep mid-wicket off Robinson for a 30-ball 34.
Nash began Sussex’s reply by extra cover driving and pulling the first two balls of the innings, from Harris, for fours but on 23 he inside-edged into his stumps against the same bowler in the fifth over while Machan edged Finn to second slip on 13 and Roland-Jones pinned Yardy leg-before for nine.
Mark Robinson, the Sussex head coach, said: “Ajmal Shahzad’s injury hampered us a lot today. He has strained a pectoral muscle just below his left shoulder, and we need to see how it is in the morning before we can assess how bad the injury is. But he came off because he couldn’t bowl with it, not as a precaution.
“There were good bowling conditions this morning, with overcast conditions too, so it was a good toss to win. We were doing really well but the Shahzad injury hurt us. Matt Hobden was not at his best today but Shahzad, Steve Magoffin and young Ollie Robinson in only his second first-class game all bowled outstandingly. We missed Shahzad, though, as their innings went on.”