Azam 157*, Shafiq 119* as Australia A toil


Pakistanis 3 for 336 (Babar 157*, Shafiq 119*) v Australia A

Pakistan’s sublimely talented Babar Azam belied an infamously poor 50s to 100s conversion rate by gliding to a masterful century against Australia A in a high quality tour contest under lights at Perth Stadium.

In a fixture billed as a selection trial for six Australian batsmen duelling for two spots in the Test top six, a successful call at the toss allowed the tourists first use of a Perth surface that proved more docile than the pitch prepared for last year’s Test against India.

This combined with a pink Kookaburra ball that lost its hardness through the middle of the day to allow Azam and Asad Shafiq the chance to get themselves into Test match rhythm after a horrid Twenty20 series that should have finished 3-0 to Australia. Their unbeaten stand was worth 276 by the close, frustrating the aspiring Test batsmen opposed to them but also heartening the touring party.

Azam made a typically effervescent start after the Pakistanis had slipped to 3 for 60 before lunch, but in contrast to so many of his first-class and Test innings he knuckled down after the early flurry to turn an attractive cameo into a truly substantial score. Shafiq proved the ideal partner, as the pair pushed through into the evening, floodlit session and successfully negotiated the second new ball despite some nifty late swing from Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser.

Helping Pakistan was the fact that the Australia A attack operated in two distinct halves. Richardson and Neser worked away tidily in the fashion of seasoned red ball bowlers, whereas Riley Meredith – albeit with an early spell that reaped two wickets for his raw pace – Sean Abbott and Travis Head were notably expensive.

The inability of the hosts to apply consistent scoreboard pressure across the day, in conditions where blasting the opposition out was proven to be an unsustainable approach, will provide food for the thinking of the Australian selectors Trevor Hohns and Justin Langer.

A more fire and brimstone day for the touring batsmen had looked briefly in the offing on a warm Perth afternoon, in scenes spookily reminiscent of Pakistan’s home away from home for much of the past decade, the similarly cavernous and often uninhabited Dubai International Stadium.

Shan Masood was dropped in the slips by Marcus Harris off Neser in the day’s third over, though the Queenslander did not have long to wait for a victim as the touring captain Azhar Ali shuffled across and was deemed lbw to a delivery that may have gone on to hit leg stump.

Meredith’s entry to the match, having seen his cause aggressively pursued by Shane Warne among others, brought plenty of speed but not much control. The wild variety was enough to bewitch Haris Sohail into vague prod wide of the off stump for an edge through to the Australia A captain Alex Carey. Then, there was undoubted venom to the bouncer that trapped Masood on glove or bat handle from around the wicket for a gently lobbed catch to Abbott running in from point.

But Azam and Shafiq were more difficult to intimidate, cuffing no fewer than 37 boundaries between them in a partnership that endured all the way through to lunch, then tea, then stumps. Twenty-four of them raced from Babar’s blade, in a demonstration of class that will not have been lost on Langer, the Test captain Tim Paine nor Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. As for Shafiq, this was an innings to remind all present and a few absent of his heroics at the Gabba four years ago – an encore now looks plausible.

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