Shafiq, O’Keefe impress on flat pitch

Asad Shafiq will enter the first Test in Dubai full of confidence after scoring a breezy century against the Australians on the first day of their tour match in Sharjah. Steve O’Keefe took 3 for 76, helping his case for a Test debut in what will probably be a twin-spin attack with Nathan Lyon.

There was barely any turn in the pitch, and the fast men were only able to extract pace, bounce and movement with the new ball. The match does not have first-class status and both teams agreed to use all the players in their squads, with a limit of 90 overs per innings. At stumps on day one, Pakistan A had made 305 for 8 from their limited allotment.

Shafiq reached his hundred, from his 148th delivery, with a pull to the midwicket boundary off Peter Siddle. He followed it with a six down the ground. The strokes were typical of the confidence shown throughout the innings by Shafiq, who finished the day with four sixes and was the only Pakistan batsman to carry on after a start.

Many of his early runs came at the expense of Australia’s spinners as he looked dangerous in the second session. He smashed O’Keefe for six over long on and was also keen to use his feet against Lyon. When Glenn Maxwell was given three overs shortly before tea, he was struck for a pair of fours.

Shafiq was happy to swing the bat as the last of Pakistan’s overs approached, with a couple of one-day style fours down the ground off Mitchell Johnson, and finished the day unbeaten on 108. The Australians will be acutely aware of his form when the first Test arrives next week.

Australia spread the bowling workload throughout their squad, with Ben Hilfenhaus and Maxwell used from outside the XI who started the day. Lyon was the only member of the likely Test attack who did not claim a wicket, apart from the allrounder Mitchell Marsh, who is still recovering from a hamstring injury and will not bowl until the second innings.

The most notable feature of the day’s play for Australia was the work of O’Keefe, who initially bowled quicker and flatter to keep runs down, but later began to toss the ball up a little more and encouraged some shots. Although that at times cost boundaries, including consecutive sixes over long-on when Shafiq used his feet, it also brought wickets.

Babar Azam, who had compiled a patient 40, ran at O’Keefe for a loft down the ground, but found the safe hands of James Faulkner at mid-on. O’Keefe’s second wicket came when Haris Sohail, who had just cracked him over midwicket for six, was beaten next ball which drifted across him, straightened and took the off stump.

It was the end of an entertaining innings of 43 from Sohail, who had struck two fours down the ground in one over from Lyon and frustrated the Australians in a century partnership with Shafiq. As Pakistan’s overs began to run out, O’Keefe picked up a third victim when Adnan Akmal was defeated by a little extra spin and steered a catch straight into the hands of Michael Clarke at first slip.

That left O’Keefe with 3 for 76 from 23 overs, a rewarding analysis given the lack of assistance in the surface. Although Australia have plenty of bowling options, the likely Test attack appears to be O’Keefe joining Lyon in a spin pairing, with Johnson and Siddle as the two frontline fast men and Marsh as the seam-bowling allrounder.

Siddle and Johnson found hints of movement and left Pakistan A at 11 for 2 after they chose to bat. Johnson had Shan Masood caught behind in the third over with a fullish ball that moved away slightly, and Siddle struck in the next over when No.3 Israrullah got a thick edge to third slip, where Steven Smith took a sharp catch to his left.

Johnson’s pace was impressive early and after a long rest through the middle of the day, he returned with a few sharp bouncers to add some zip to proceedings later in the afternoon, including one that brought Shafiq has half-century when it flew over the slips for four. However, it was Siddle who claimed a second wicket when Raza Hasan was lbw for 5 as the shadows encroached, and Smith also chipped in with a late wicket.

Shafiq was still at the crease having steered the innings after several of his colleagues made starts but failed to go on and post a big score. Opener Ahmed Shehzad took 12 balls to get off the mark but gradually began to find his touch with a boundary off the back foot through point off Johnson and an outstanding six pulled over midwicket when Siddle dropped short.

Shehzad also enjoyed going after Lyon and used his feet well against the spin, lofting him over long-on for six and back over his head for four. But shortly after lunch, Shehzad fell for 55 when he played on to Hilfenhaus, who effectively performed the third seamer role that could be filled by Marsh in the Test match.

Pakistan A went to stumps having used their full 90 overs, meaning the second day will begin with Australia’s openers Chris Rogers and Phillip Hughes at the crease.

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