Pakistan cruise to six-wicket win
Pakistanis 137 for 4 (Shahzaib 64, Afridi 42, Willey 2-14) beat Northamptonshire 133 for 3 (Chigumbura 58, Wakely 55, Ajmal 1-15) by six wickets
Shahzaib Hasan's aggressive half century and a blistering 13-ball 42 from Shahid Afridi helped Pakistan thrash a weakened Northamptonshire by six wickets with 27 balls to spare. At the halfway mark the visitors had moved cautiously to 57 for 1 but Afridi, returning from injury, bulldozed the opposition in his short stay at the crease to put Pakistan in the right frame of mind ahead of next week's twin Twenty20 internationals against Australia at Edgbaston.
Pakistan launched their chase at a-run-a-ball with both Hasan and Kamran Akmal taking advantage of any loose deliveries. Hasan slashed Jack Brooks over point to open the chase and a couple of overs later pulled the same bowler for six. Kamran, restless at the wicket, hit two strong cover drives against David Lucas to erase a scratchy start. But he soon faltered, offering a simple catch against a slow, looping full toss from left-armer David Willey.
At the other end Hasan continued the attack, picking up two boundaries behind square leg in Elton Chigumbura's first over. But the Zimbabwe allrounder bounced back with some tight lines and lengths which slowed Pakistan's progress and both Hasan and Fawad Alam suddenly found it difficult to pick the gaps.
Alam had replaced Salman Butt, who had been rested, and looked apprehensive on the front foot. Frustration soon set in and he offered an easy catch to Chigumbura at point trying to cut James Middlebrook, the offspinner. The run rate had dipped considerably as Pakistan added just 16 runs in the four overs after the Powerplay.
But any hopes Northants entertained were smashed to smithereens by Afridi. He swung his bat at almost everything and three boundries resulted from thick edges off Middlebrook. In the same over the Pakistan captain had lofted the offspinner over the long-on boundary for his first six.
The turning point arrived in the following over from Brooks. Against the first ball, a short delivery on the off side, Afridi moved back and smartly tapped the ball between point and gully to pick up an easy boundary. Next came a punched straight drive past the ropes, and this was followed by a huge slog only for the leading edge to race past thirdman for a third successive boundary. A handsome pull then flew over square leg for his second six. Hasan made it the most expensive over of the match (23 runs) with a lofted square drive for another four.
From 57 for 1 after 10 overs Pakistan had rushed to 121 in the next four overs. Afridi duly retired, soon followed by Hasan who was caught in the deep but Pakistan finished on a high note.
In the absence of senior players such as Andrew Hall, Chaminda Vaas, Nicky Boje and wicketkeeper Niall O'Brien Northants were always going to find it difficult to challenge the 2009 World Twenty20 champions. Fighting half-centuries from Alex Wakely and Chigumbura kept them in the contest but 133 was never going to be a big hurdle for Pakistan.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo