Azam, Sohail tons reinforce Pakistan A lead

After going wicketless on the first day in Sharjah, Nathan Lyon was the only Australian to make a breakthrough on day three as Babar Azam and Haris Sohail ground down the bowlers with unbeaten centuries. It was slow going for much of the day as Pakistan A crawled along at less than three an over until tea, but Azam and Sohail began to open up late in the afternoon as they sensed the possibility of triple-figures.

The Australians were cautious with their key bowlers with Mitchell Johnson and Peter Siddle used for six and seven overs respectively early in the day. Much of the pace work was done by Mitchell Starc and James Faulkner and notably, Mitchell Marsh was able to bowl seven overs without obvious hindrance from his hamstring injury, an encouraging sign ahead of the first Test.

Marsh was a touch rusty – there were a couple of low full tosses and a stomach-high full toss that Ahmed Shehzad narrowly evaded – but he got through three spells and left the field after tea to work in the nets, finishing the day with figures of 0 for 18.

By stumps, Pakistan A had reached 306 for 3 from their allotted 90 overs, with Azam on 114 and Sohail on 103. Their lead had moved on to 338 runs, but victory in this non-first-class match was not the key objective for the Australians, who will hope to use the fourth day to get some batting practice into the likes of Chris Rogers and Michael Clarke, who missed out in the first innings and were not part of the recent ODI series.

None of that should take away from the efforts of Azam and Sohail, who came together with the score at 87 for 3 and put on an unbeaten 219-run partnership. Azam, who turned 20 this week and is yet to score a first-class hundred, was the more fluent of the two early in their stand and brought up his half-century from his 104th delivery when he lofted Steven Smith’s legspin over long-off for six.

He enjoyed going after the spinners, advancing and smashing Lyon over long-on for six and then in the same over lifted him over cover for four. Azam’s hundred came off his 159th delivery with a clip through midwicket, meaning his second fifty had been scored at almost a run a ball as the bowlers tired and allrounders like Smith and Glenn Maxwell were used.

Sohail was slower to get going and had a life on 47 when he was put down by Clarke at first slip off the bowling of Steve O’Keefe, and it took him until his 140th ball to reach his half-century. But almost immediately after that he decided to let loose and launched O’Keefe over long-on for consecutive sixes.

Sohail’s hundred came in the last over of the day with an upper cut wide for four off Starc. There were only four balls left in the afternoon’s play at that point but Sohail had been desperate to reach triple-figures, having raced from 50 to 100 in the space of only 30 deliveries – his hundred came from 170 balls.

Both men profited off Faulkner – Sohail crunched him for 14 in four balls as his ton approached – although neither had to face Johnson and Siddle. The Australians were more interested in getting some overs into Marsh, and in giving Lyon and O’Keefe more opportunities.

The only Australian who had any success was Lyon, who claimed two wickets from consecutive balls and effected a brilliant run-out off his own bowling shortly afterwards. Shan Masood had crawled to 19 from 97 balls when he edged a ripping offbreak and was taken sharply by the wicketkeeper moving to his left. But it wasn’t Brad Haddin behind the stumps. He had been given a day’s rest to freshen up ahead of the Test and the substitute Saqlain Haider, from the UAE team, received plenty of pats on the back from the Australians after his excellent catch.

Next ball, Lyon pushed one on with the arm from around the wicket and the umpire adjudged Israrullah lbw for a golden duck, leaving Pakistan at 62 for 2. There was no hat-trick for Lyon, but he was responsible for the next wicket when Shehzad advanced and miscued a clip towards mid-on. Lyon dived across to make the save, and then threw down the stumps at the striker’s end to find Shehzad short.

Shehzad had made 59 from 95 deliveries to add to his 55 from the first innings, and looked the most fluent of the Pakistani batsmen during the early stages. It had been slow going for most of the opening session as Australia’s fast men toiled without success and Shehzad and Masood batted through without loss.

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