Top order tune up as Pakistan take control against Northants

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Pakistan 357/7 (Shafiq 135*, Sohail 79, Azam 57; Keogh 3/83) lead Northamptonshire 259 (Rossington 90; Shadab 6/77) by 98 runs with three wickets remaining.

After a poor start to their tour of the UK and Ireland, Pakistan have come up with an almost perfect response in their second warm-up game, against Northamptonshire.

Though they drew their first fixture, against Kent, Pakistan struggled, getting bowled out for 161 before conceding 209/4, with Joe Denly making a century. Had rain not taken time out of the fixture, they might even have suffered a humiliating loss. 

So it was vital that when they travelled to Northampton to take on Northants, they were able to summon a better performance to allay fears of a disastrous tour. The first day saw them dismiss their opponents for 259, largely thanks to leg-spinner Shadab Khan’s six-for, while the second day was perhaps better still as a century from Asad Shafiq, supported by half-centuries from Babar Azam and Haris Sohail, helped Pakistan reach 357/7 at stumps, building a lead of 98 with three wickets in hand.

It could have been even better for the touring side considering they were at one point 287/3, but after the horrors of that first day against Kent, they will surely be happy with the day’s efforts. Perhaps the only player to emerge from that game with credit was Imam-ul-Haq, who scored 61 to prevent further ignominy. He was unable to add more weight to his claims for selection for Pakistan’s first Test of the tour, against Ireland, when he was dismissed for 11 by the hard-working Rob Keogh.

He joined Azhar Ali (9) in the hut but from 41/2, successive century partnerships saw Pakistan into a position of dominance. Sohail’s 79 was solid, occupying more than three hours, while Babar’s 57 was breezy, coming in under 90 minutes. Longer than the two put together was Shafiq’s unbeaten 135. The knock contained three sixes, and he appears in good form which will be heartening for Pakistan considering he is one of their key players.

Pakistan may perhaps be concerned by how they wasted their platform, losing 4/34 before an unbroken eighth-wicket stand of 36 meant they crossed 350. Captain Sarfraz Ahmed fell for just 8, while Shadab Khan and Faheem Ashraf also departed cheaply. But considering how their tour had started, they might well be willing to look past the day s smaller flaws in favour of the bigger picture, which looks far rosier than 36 hours ago.

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