Mahmood burst puts Lancs on top
Not since 1995 have Lancashire won their opening three County Championship matches, but Glen Chapple's side are well placed to begin their 2010 campaign with a trio of four-day victories.
Sajid Mahmood's five-wicket haul and some inspired fielding ensured that they remain in control of this LV= Division One game against Kent after two days play.
Chapple's bowlers dismissed Rob Key's side for 213 to give themselves a lead of 107 going into the second half of this fluctuating contest, and that advantage had been extended to 175 when bad light and rain ended play 15 overs early.
Lancashire go into the third day on 68-3, having lost Tom Smith, Paul Horton and Stephen Moore to Kent's threatening new-ball pair of Makhaya Ntini and Amjad Khan
And the game might well have been all but decided had it not been for a defiant 101 not out by Darren Stevens, who rescued his side from 97-7 and whose 92-run partnership with Matt Coles (33) ensured that Kent avoided the follow-on.
Mixing careful defence with uninhibited aggression, the former Leicestershire all-rounder, who had taken four wickets in Lancashire's first innings, clubbed two mighty sixes and ten fours in his 129-ball stay at the wicket.
When Ntini was last man out - caught off the back of his bat by leg-gully Mark Chilton when attempting to avoid a Mahmood bouncer - Lancashire's lead had been reduced to a healthy advantage, but nothing like the abundance Chapple's men had envisaged earlier in the day.
Indeed, it needed a hostile spell from Mahmood to claim the last three wickets and give the 28-year-old fast bowler his first five-wicket return of the season.
Earlier, he had accounted for Joe Denly with an unplayable lifter, and Geraint Jones with a perfectly playable delivery which the Kent wicket-keeper edged to Luke Sutton, giving the Lancs gloveman his fourth catch of the innings.
"It was fantastic to get out there and bowl well as a unit," said Mahmood. "We put pressure on their batsmen and we got our reward for that. The ball came out pretty well and I felt in pretty good rhythm, but then I've felt in pretty good rhythm all year to be honest.
"We put it in the right places and left the rest to the pitch which has done a little bit for us. The wicket's gone a bit up and down, but I don't know if that's got anything to do with the new rule preventing the use of the heavy roller after the start of the game.
"Hopefully we can build a decent lead and put their batsmen under pressure again. We've not let any batting side get away from us this season and if we keep doing that we've got plenty more wins in us."
Mahmood may have been Lancashire's most successful bowler, but he was by no means the only effective member of the attack.
It was also another memorable day in the career of Glen Chapple, who claimed his 700th first-class wicket for the county when he moved one away from Rob Key.
Martin van Jaarsveld then fell for the Lancashire skipper's three-card-trick when he tamely gave a dolly to backward short-leg Simon Kerrigan, who had been deliberately placed in the position a few balls previously.
Yet it still needed a one-handed catch of all but incredible brilliance by Steven Croft in the gully to account for Simon Cook, who slashed the ball heavens hard low to the fielder's left and stood in astonishment as the 24-year-old dived full length and clung onto it.
Chapple finished with 3-45, while Tom Smith chipped in with the scalps of Sam Northeast and James Hockley.
Mahmood was keen to pay tribute to both his team-mates. "Chappy is a great cricketer and to be able to bowl in the same attack as him and to pick his brains as to how to bowl in different conditions is fantastic," he said. "He deserves every success he gets. I'm surprised he's never played for England.
"I had a pretty good view of Crofty's catch because I was fielding at mid-on. Taking chances like that turns games and it was one of the best catches I've ever seen in my career, although I'd have to put the catch he took off Michael Vaughan in last year's Twenty20 ahead of it.
Day 1 Report
Photos: Simon Pendrigh, Peakpix Digital Images
(c) Lancashire CCC Ltd