Liam Brickhill is a freelance journalist based in Cape Town
Pakistanis 2 for 0 (Fakhar 1*, Imam 1*) trail CSA Invitation XI 318 for 7 dec (Ackerman 103*, Richards 98, Azhar 2-19, Faheem 2-45) by 316 runs
The touring Pakistanis eased into the first playing day in South Africa, against a young but talented CSA Invitation XI riding on captain Marques Ackerman's hundred to declare at 318 for 7 in Benoni. There was a wicket apiece for Mohammad Amir and Hasan Ali, while Faheem Ashraf picked up two and Azhar Ali's part-time legbreaks yielded 2 for 19.
With Pakistan sweating on the match fitness of Shadab Khan and Mohammad Abbas, neither bowled a ball on the fist day. Opening batsman Fakhar Zaman is also not quite at 100%, having aggravated a knee injury picked up in October, but he came out to bat in Pakistan's innings, suggesting he may have completed his rehabilitation sooner than expected. He and Imam-ul-Haq successfully negotiated the 18 balls bowled in Pakistan's innings before stumps.
In the absence of Shadab and Abbas, the four-pronged pace attack of Amir, Shaheen Afridi, Hasan and Faheem was given a good workout, all bowling between 12 and 16 overs each. They went about their work watched by around a hundred spectators at the ground.
Led by the 22-year-old Ackerman, the Invitation XI team are all 25 or under, but there is certainly talent within their youthful ranks. Opening batsman Joshua Richards narrowly missed out on a hundred the day before his 20th birthday, scoring 98, but Ackerman went to his own century in the 85th over of the day, declaring the innings immediately after he raised his ton by punching Amir through extra cover for his 14th four.
With scores of 100, 118, 132, 1, 4* and 145 leading up to this game, Richards was within touching distance of his fifth hundred in seven innings when he fell against the run of play earlier. Richards and Neil Brand had collected 87 runs in an opening stand that stretched to 26 overs before Brand was trapped in front of his stumps for 38 by Amir.
Having perhaps bowled a little within themselves in the morning session, Pakistan's quicks operated with a little more vim after lunch, and Tshepang Dithole was caught behind off Faheem soon after the interval. Matthew Breetzke, who was named South Africa Under-19 Cricketer of the Year at CSA's annual awards in June, added a breezy 24 from 28 deliveries with three fours and a six before he aimed a wild swipe at Haris Sohail's left-arm spin and was caught off a top edge at short third man.
Ackerman and Richards then came together to add 38 for the fourth wicket, and with Richards closing in on his ton, Azhar was brought on for a twirl. His first delivery caught Richards by surprise, an attempted cut resulting only in an edge that was snaffled by Asad Shafiq.
While Pakistan struck repeatedly at the other end, Hasan disturbing Onke Nyaku's stumps and Faheem quickly repeating the treatment against Rivaldo Moonsamy, Ackerman marched on to his hundred. He got to the mark from the 132nd delivery he faced, prompting the declaration before Imam and Fakhar ended the first day without further drama.