Starc sets up hard-fought win for Australia
Australia 199 for 6 (Clarke 66, Bailey 57*, Ajmal 3-30) beat Pakistan 198 (Shafiq 56, Starc 5-42, Pattinson 3-19) by four wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Australia were grateful for the 29 balls given up by Pakistan as the latter half of their innings collapsed, using them to secure a meritorious victory in the first ODI in the heat of Sharjah. The frenzied conclusion of Pakistan's innings contrasted with the composure shown by Michael Clarke's team, who took a major step towards preserving an unbeaten record against the subcontinental side that has lasted since 2002.
While Clarke played a critical role, notching a fluent 66 when all around him looked fraught in the face of Pakistan's spin, it was equally heartening for the Australians that the less seasoned George Bailey and Glenn Maxwell supplied the game-clinching stand. Maxwell perished to an impetuous reverse sweep with the win in sight, but Dan Christian kept Bailey company until the final runs were collected, with four wickets and 10 balls to spare.
Australia owed much, too, to Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson, who snipped the top off the Pakistan innings with the new ball then strangling the middle order in the batting Powerplay on the way to rounding up Misbah-ul-Haq's men for 198 in 45.1 overs.
This had seemed a good toss for Pakistan to win but, apart from an energetic stand of 61 between Asad Shafiq and Umar Akmal, it was the batsmen who did the wilting in the early evening. Starc followed up his four wickets against Afghanistan with five here for his best ODI figures, while Pattinson claimed three and conceded little more than two runs per over.
They were the beneficiaries of some abject Pakistani batting, as a succession of players succumbed to the pressure applied by the pace bowlers in concert with the constricting fields set by Clarke. The tourists' sole specialist spinner, Xavier Doherty, had been deemed surplus to requirements as Clarke chose to lean heavily on his pacemen, and the strategy was justified by how effectively Pakistan's strokemakers were neutralised.
By contrast, Misbah wasted little time using the tweakers at his disposal, handing Mohammad Hafeez the new ball for the second over. He soon defeated David Warner, aiming an ambitious swing and missing by miles, and played a large part in softening up Matthew Wade for Shahid Afridi, who had the wicketkeeper caught from a skied slog sweep attempt. Both Australia's openers have some thinking to do.
Michael Hussey is usually an accomplished player of spin but even he struggled, playing for more turn than was offered by the surface perhaps due to the sharply turning surfaces prepared for the Australians at their pre-season camp in Darwin. The crafty Saeed Ajmal pinned Hussey lbw on the back foot with his first ball, the batsman wasting his team's one review on a ball that was going on to hit middle.
David Hussey fared no better, struggling to read Ajmal's doosra and eventually edging one to Misbah at slip, a fate that might also have befallen Clarke until he adjusted to the wiles of his opponent. Bailey struggled mightily through his first handful of deliveries, and Clarke had to survive a review for a concerted caught behind appeal when Ajmal floated the ball across him from round the wicket.
Slowly, however, Clarke and Bailey built a stand that crept the tourists closer. Bailey gathered surety if not momentum, while Clarke continued to punch the ball about with confidence and purpose. In the end it was something of a surprise when Clarke did fall, caught on the crease to be lbw to Hafeez, but his wicket re-opened the contest.
Maxwell is the kind of batsman who answers to the description "brazen", and he proved it by attempting to reverse sweep his first ball from Ajmal. He showed a prominent bottom hand and an array of more considered strokes the longer he batted with Bailey, who demonstrated an ability to fight through a situation even when faced with opponents more talented than him.
Misbah tried all his regular options, plus the part-time spin of Azhar Ali. There was one edge from Maxwell that might harshly be deemed a chance to Kamran Akmal, and another pull into the outfield that Asad Shafiq narrowly failed to hang on to. But Bailey and Maxwell played with calmness, allowing the equation to whittle down without undue haste, and making the most of their full quota of overs.
The Australians would have briefly contemplated a far larger target in the opening overs of the match, with Pakistan making an aggressive start as Pattinson and Starc strained for early swing by pursuing a very full length. Starc twice appealed for LBW against Hafeez, only to be denied by each ball pitching a fraction outside leg stump - the second also costing Australia their lone decision review.
Pattinson's penchant for landing the ball on the seam was to be rewarded when one such delivery stopped a little, causing Hafeez to pop a catch to short cover. Azhar fell in similar fashion, chipping to mid-on, but Nasir Jamshed was victim of a snorter from Starc, who coaxed sharp bounce from an otherwise moribund surface to offer Wade a sharp chance behind the stumps.
Though Christian's change-up had Misbah undone, Umar Akmal's aggression in Shafiq's company had Pakistan placed neatly enough at 159 for 4 when they took the batting Powerplay. Having played with no little intelligence to that point, Shafiq could not resist the temptation to try to pierce the field, and an ugly swish at Starc had his stumps splayed.
Kamran Akmal could not get comfortable, and in the last of the Powerplay overs he spooned a catch to mid-on. Clarke's knack for astute field placings was to be rewarded the very next ball with the prized wicket of Afridi, edging Starc low to the captain at slip. The Powerplay had thus reaped three wickets at a cost of 16 runs and the rest of the innings petered out, wasting that critical 29 balls.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here