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Masood and Azhar score confidence-boosting half-centuries

Worcestershire 30 for 0 trail Pakistanis 261 for 3 dec (Azhar 81, Masood 67, Rizwan 49*)
Scorecard

Shan Masood all but confirmed his place in the Pakistan side for the third Test at Edgbaston with a patient half-century in the tour game against Worcestershire.

Masood, who has looked less than immoveable at the top of the order in the Test series, came into the game under a little pressure, but easily out-scored his most obvious rival for a spot, Sami Aslam, and has almost certainly done enough to retain his spot.

That news may not cause any sleepless nights for James Anderson. He has dismissed Masood, who has scored 71 in four innings this series, in all six innings in which they have confronted one another in Test cricket and on four of those occasions he has failed to pass 2.

But here, confronted by a modest attack and a painfully slow pitch being used for the second time in a week (it was described by Azhar Ali as "a very tired pitch"), he took the opportunity to gain some time at the crease and build some confidence with a determined innings that belied the low-key nature of this two-day contest.

There was one nervous moment early on when he played and missed at Charlie Morris on 1 and another on 52 when Morris put down a tough chance at backward square leg off George Rhodes' offspin. But in between times he demonstrated patience - he did not score his second run until his 27th delivery and it took him 124 balls to reach his half-century - some familiar nicely timed strokes off his legs and one pleasing off-drive against the medium pace of Alex Hepburn.

Aslam may reflect that he has not been given the best opportunity to shine on this tour. Having not played a first-class game since December, he had had to wait until now for his first innings of the tour and, having clubbed the first boundary of the innings - a lofted drive over mid-on off the out of sorts Jack Shantry - from the penultimate ball of the 14th over, then followed one angled across him and edged to slip. Aslam may look back on this as a frustrating tour but, aged just 20, he has time on his side. Pakistan also hope to bat again in the latter stages of the second day of this game, so he should have one more opportunity to impress.

There were also runs for Azhar. He is captain in this game in place of the rested Misbah-ul-Haq and has also endured a modest start to the series - he has scored 39 in four innings - but here he looked a class above in making an accomplished 81 that included a straight six off Rhodes and a slogged four through midwicket to bring up his half-century from 103 deliveries. "Teams do work you out in international cricket," he said afterwards when asked about England's bowlers exploiting his habit of falling over towards the off side. "You need to cope with it."

While Worcestershire are close to full strength - Brett D'Oliverira, who has just signed a three-year contract extension with the club, and Ben Cox and Joe Leach, who have both played every game this season, were the only three rested - this was a used surface and their attack is a good deal more sedate than the one Pakistan will experience at Edgbaston next week. Three of them - Rhodes, Hepburn and Alexei Kervezee - have nine first-class wickets between them, while Ed Barnard is just 20.

Barnard can bowl, though. He produced a beauty to account for Azhar- the ball reversed just enough to clip the top of off stump - and, as he grows and strengthens, looks as if he could be a good prospect.

The decision to rest Cox provided an opportunity for Joe Clarke, arguably the most talented 20-year-old batsman in England, to keep wicket and although he fumbled a couple of times, he took a nice catch to end Masood's innings as the batsman skipped down the pitch, was beaten by some turn and edged his attempted drive.

That allowed Mohammad Rizwan to compile an unbeaten 49 full of elegant strokes - his late cut and sweep, in particular - and Iftikhar Ahmed, whose first scoring stroke was a slightly mis-hit six off Kervezee, to make an unbeaten 41 in an unbroken fourth-wicket stand of 80 before the declaration. Younis Khan, slightly surprisingly given his form, was rested but batted in the nets. This two-day game does not have first-class status so there is some potential for the teams to change on the second day, though both sides have said they will resist that temptation.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Hafeez worked with Carl Crowe, the former county spinner turned coach, in the nets. Crowe helped Sunil Narine re-model his action after it was deemed illegal and is trying to help Hafeez through a similar process now. As yet, though, there is no re-test booked for Hafeez and, until there is, he cannot be cleared to bowl in a match. As a result, it seems there is no chance of him bowling in the third Test and very little in the final Test.