Stung by a heavy defeat in the opening game, Pakistan has forced Super Challenge II into a series-deciding clash at the 'Gabba next Wednesday after registering a hard-earned two wicket win over Australia in Melbourne tonight. Spirited bowling was complemented by patient batting as the tourists dug deep into their reserves of skill and commitment to secure victory with seven balls to spare.

Unlike Wednesday's series-opener, this was a high-standard encounter. As a contest, it had much to offer too, with Pakistan waiting until the last half-hour of a prolonged arm wrestle to genuinely secure its win.

The sophisticated strokemaking talent of Younis Khan (56*) was the key, delightful footwork and crisp hitting allowing him to persistently guide the ball through and over the field on a day when almost every batsman struggled. Crucial, too, was his patience in a difficult period in the middle of the innings during which spinners Shane Warne (2/49) and Darren Lehmann (1/17) rudely interrupted the progress of Yousuf Youhana (29), Rashid Latif (16) and Shahid Afridi (3).

Pakistan's pursuit of the paltry Australian total of 167 had sputtered into difficulty at various stages of the evening session as wickets were frittered away at regular intervals. But the young right hander was able to play the lead role in partnerships of 35 with Latif; 19 with Wasim Akram (10); and 18 with Waqar Younis (8*) to haul his team back from the potential ruin posed by scorelines of 3/21 and 5/85.

Earlier, the direct hit run out of Saeed Anwar (0) from mid off, and the departures of Imran Nazir (6) and Azhar Mahmood (4) in the space of a single Brett Lee (2/44) over, had posed grave threats to the satisfactory progress of the Pakistan innings.

In truth, though, Australia should never have been given a chance to win after a typically explosive opening to the match from Akram.

Amid cold conditions, the teams had played a slow-burning match to mark the beginning of the series three days ago. As Akram (3/18) set to work, though, this one could barely have exploded into life any faster.

The first serious questions of the afternoon - not to mention the prayers of the series' promoters - had been answered when Lee and Shoaib Akhtar were included in the respective elevens. There still remain few players as pleasurable to watch in full flight as Akram, however, and it was the 36-year-old former Pakistan captain who duly stole all the headlines once play commenced.

In a frenzied beginning, the redoubtable left arm paceman struck with the first and third deliveries of the match, initially finding a feint outside edge as he drew Adam Gilchrist (0) into nibbling at an outswinger of exceptional quality. Ricky Ponting (0) then made a similarly forlorn exit when a defensive shot caused the ball to jam off a combination of bat and pad, and loop in a gentle low parabola to the jubilant bowler.

Fellow members of the upper order should have been quick to join their captain and vice-captain among the ranks of the fallen.

But Jimmy Maher (12) survived a pair of desperately close lbw and run out decisions and Damien Martyn (56) encountered two anxious moments of his own, top edging the ball just short of fine leg as he hooked at Akram with his score at 3 and then benefiting from a controversial decision with his score only four runs advanced.

A mistimed pull at Akram had sent the ball toward Waqar at mid on, and the Pakistan skipper initially appeared to have clutched the ball cleanly just above the turf. Neither Martyn nor umpire Darrell Hair, standing only a short distance away from Waqar, seemed fully convinced, though, and an ensuing series of replays failed to shed further light on the catch's validity for third umpire Simon Taufel.

Pakistan paid a heavy price in that Martyn's escape set the stage for a defiant 66-run stand for the fourth wicket with Lehmann (31).

On a pitch again offering consistent pace and bounce - as well as appreciable turn at times - it was only when Afridi (3/28) proceeded to encourage Martyn to cut a low catch to backward point that the tourists redressed the balance. The leg spinner swiftly made further important breaches of the home team's defences when he trapped Shane Watson (8) and Warne (1) on the line of the crease.

Akhtar (2/30), the speed of whose deliveries peaked at the match-high reading of 151.9 kilometres per hour, then mopped up the remnants of the innings by bowling Andy Bichel (7) and having Michael Bevan (30) caught behind while cutting.

The Australians ultimately lost 5/29 in the closing stages of the afternoon session to pair a poor finish with the disastrous start that they had made after winning the toss.