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The Australians rounded out 2009 with their most clinical final day bowling performance of the year to seal a 170 run victory over Pakistan. Nathan Hauritz, placed on notice by Australia's selectors prior to the series, claimed his first career five-wicket haul as Pakistan crumbled from 3 for 170 overnight to be all out for 251 shortly after lunch on the final day.
Hauritz's ability to exploit wearing pitches had been called into question of late, not least by Andrew Hilditch, and he proved himself worthy of the challenge on Wednesday. Unable to replicate the biting turn that accounted for Faisal Iqbal the previous day, Hauritz instead utilised flight and bounce to challenge Pakistan's lower and middle orders and was rewarded with four final-day scalps.
Australia began the day in emphatic fashion with Mitchell Johnson removing Umar Akmal and Misbah-ul-Haq with consecutive deliveries in his first over. Hauritz then repeated the dose with the back-to-back dismissals of Kamran Akmal and Mohammad Aamer shortly after the first drinks break to extinguish any hope of an improbable Pakistan fightback.
Mohammad Yousuf showed admirable determination to post 61, but support for the Pakistan captain was thin on the ground. With wickets falling in clusters, the Australians required only four overs after lunch to seal victory and claim a 1-0 series lead in the best-of-three series. The result took their Test record in 2009 to an encouraging seven wins, three defeats and three draws; a substantial improvement on their 5-5-4 record from the previous year.
The younger Akmal was the first victim of the final day, pushing at a fast, swinging delivery from Johnson that was claimed millimetres above the MCG turf by a tumbling Brad Haddin. Misbah fell to an identical mode of dismissal, albeit to a straighter ball, leaving the tourists' hopes of a fightback in tatters less than an over into the day. Kamran Akmal denied Johnson his hat-trick, but almost triggered one for Hauritz when, after an hour of stern resistance, he was stumped attempting a reckless charge to a slower, bouncing delivery. Hauritz then beat Aamer for bounce with his next ball, resulting in a gloved catch to Simon Katich at short leg.
Abdur Rauf survived Hauritz's hat-trick delivery - which featured the rare sight of nine fielders around the bat - but fell soon after to Doug Bollinger. Rounding out a forgettable match, Rauf played onto his stumps to expose the Pakistan tail shortly before lunch. Hauritz completed the rout after the break by removing Yousuf to another bat-pad catch, and Saeed Ajmal to a wild swipe that was accepted by Shane Watson, who was later named Man of the Match.
The breakthroughs ensured Johnson and Hauritz a positive end to a 2009 campaign that has proved testing in the extreme. Both bowlers have been subjected to criticism - Johnson for his erratic ways during the Ashes series, Hauritz for his lack of penetration on deteriorating tracks - but have emerged better for the experience. Though not quite back to his wrecking ball ways of South Africa, Johnson is nonetheless a bowler far improved from that which struggled for much of the Ashes series. Hauritz, meanwhile, has continued his steady evolution as an international spinner, as demonstrated by his subtle changes of flight and angle on Wednesday.
For Pakistan, there is much to ponder before the Sydney Test. The selection of Rauf over the experienced and versatile Umar Gul was flawed, and the catching at the MCG largely lamentable. The likely return of Danish Kaneria and the possible reintroduction of Younis Khan could prove a significant boost for the tourists, but on the evidence of the past five days, there remains much work to do.
If nothing else, Pakistan have at least closed the chapter on the annus horribilus that was 2009. In a year that witnessed the Lahore terrorist attack, and the subsequent stripping of host venue status, the Pakistanis can look ahead to the New Years' Test with hope for healing and renewal.
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