Pakistan v Australia, 3rd ODI, Sharjah
Nerveless Maxwell takes Australia home
Australia 250 for 7 (Hussey 65, Maxwell 56*, Ajmal 3-37) beat Pakistan 244 for 7 (Hafeez 78, Jamshed 48, Starc 4-51) by three wickets
A little calmer when it mattered most, Australia completed a victory more testing than the scoreboard ultimately showed to defeat Pakistan in Sharjah and claim the overnight ODI series 2-1. It was a result achieved as much by perspiration as inspiration, Michael Hussey and the nerveless tyro Glenn Maxwell forming the critical union to rescue their team from the uncertainty of 159 for 5 when Matthew Wade fell to Abdur Rehman.
Michael Hussey could so easily have been out lbw to Saeed Ajmal before he had scored, amid a mesmerising spell in which the offspinner claimed what appeared a pivotal 3 for 11. But Misbah-ul-Haq made a pair of judgements that were to prove too timid - failing to refer the umpire Billy Bowden's decision, and then taking Ajmal off after five overs when another wicket or two might have sealed Australia's fate.
Pakistan's hesitation could perhaps be attributed to the weight of history, having not defeated Australia in an ODI series since 2002. There was to be little such trepidation about the way Michael Hussey and Maxwell closed in on the target, which had been reined in to manageable proportions by Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc after Pakistan's openers made their team's best start against Australia since 1985.
Mohammad Hafeez's stand of 129 with Nasir Jamshed should have allowed Pakistan to soar well past 250, but Australia's bowlers stuck admirably to their task to limit the rest. It was Johnson who started the salvage operation, claiming two wickets while keeping his economy-rate down, and thus allowing Starc to strike four times to continue his decent form.
As had been flagged as a possibility by the assistant coach Steve Rixon earlier in the series, Wade's exertions during 50 overs in the field were deemed too much for him to back up immediately as an opener.
His replacement at the top of the order was unexpected - David Hussey opening for the first time in his ODI career - but provided a useful left-right contrast with David Warner in a stand that showed plenty of brio if not total safety.
Warner and David Hussey both smote huge sixes, causing the umpires to twice call for a replacement ball, and denting the previously tidy series figures of Hafeez. Rehman hurried a Warner pull shot and claimed his wicket to break the partnership at 44, but Michael Clarke was typically fluent and with David Hussey he kept Australia ahead of the asking-rate.
However Ajmal's introduction brought a marked change to proceedings, as he found spin despite the moist night air and yet again confused the Australians with his variations. Clarke had struck one significant blow in drawing blood from the left hand of Shahid Afridi with a fierce drive, but he advanced too early to Ajmal and was well stumped down the leg side by Kamran Akmal.
Michael Hussey seemed palpably lbw, but Pakistan chose conservatively not to refer Billy Bowden's not-out verdict. David Hussey perished in pursuit of another six, and George Bailey gloved an attempted paddle-sweep. Ajmal's spin had turned the innings, but he was then withdrawn to allow Wade and Michael Hussey some desperately needed breathing room.
They steadied things until Wade's exit, bowled between bat and pad, whereupon Maxwell made another free-spirited contribution to a series in which his batting comfortably outshone his bowling as he ransacked Afridi for 16 runs in the 43rd over. Michael Hussey was out to a tired slog and Dan Christian did not endure, but Maxwell kept his cool and his timing to guide the weary Australians home.
They had been grateful to win the toss and avoid the worst excesses of the evening moisture. Bolstered by happy memories of game one when they had topped and tailed the Pakistan innings, Pattinson and Starc took the new ball with some intent. Starc looked initially short of rhythm and comfort having shrugged off a side/chest complaint to take part, but Australia's opening duo made Jamshed and Hafeez work hard to survive the early overs.
Both batsmen top-edged attempted hook shots and were fortunate to see their respective strokes fall safely. Nonetheless, the shots signalled their ambition, even as a sluggish pitch, slow outfield and tidy Australian fielding made scoring difficult.
Gradually, Hafeez and Jamshed wrested the initiative, seeing off a useful spell by Johnson and profiting more from the others. The allrounder Christian shelled a difficult return catch when Hafeez was on 26, but it was the only hint of a chance offered by the openers as they strode to Pakistan's first century opening stand against Australia in ODIs since 1985.
Jamshed's innings was a worthy follow-up to his match-shaping innings in Abu Dhabi, while Hafeez was finally showing the Australians the worth of his batting after some years of underachievement. The six off Pattinson was a particularly compelling reminder.
Australia were so desperate for a wicket that Clarke sacrificed his one referral to a speculative appeal for a leg-side catch off Jamshed. The stratagem was indirectly helpful in securing the breakthrough, distracting Jamshed enough for Johnson to have him touching a bouncer behind in the same over.
Afridi was promoted in the order to make a flash-in-the-pan seven, and Hafeez's innings was ended when Clarke struck him in front while attempting to sweep. Asad Shafiq, Misbah-ul-Haq and Azhar Ali did not go beyond their starts, keeping the target within Australia's reach.