Durban: Australia's batsmen held their nerve to secure a 2-1 ODI series victory over South Africa in a slogging contest in Durban, taking valuable momentum into next month's Test matches in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
The predicted rain never arrived as Michael Hussey guided his side home in the company of a wide-eyed Pat Cummins with 15 balls to spare, after the captain Michael Clarke, the recalled Shaun Marsh and the wicketkeeper Brad Haddin had all contributed cameos. Hussey rounded it off with a crisply pulled six, immediately embracing Cummins in what was a valuable early experience for the 18-year-old.
Shane Watson had made a crucially belligerent contribution at the top of the order for the tourists on a slow pitch, crashing one six in his 49, a useful tally to add to his tidy bowling after recovering from the back spasms that dogged him in the second match.
Spin bowlers Johan Botha and JP Duminy posed the greatest threat among South Africa's bowlers, gaining some turn, but Morne Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe were expensive with few runs to defend, and Jacques Kallis was used sparingly ahead of the Tests.
Kallis and Hashim Amla earlier posted half-centuries for the hosts but the acceleration expected from the halfway point of 114 for 1 never quite eventuated as Australia's bowlers showed tremendous discipline once the shine was gone from the ball to hold the total to 222 for 6. Xavier Doherty's spin was particularly difficult to dig out, and Watson resumed bowling after back spasms in the second match at St George's Park to concede just one run from the 46th over.
Cummins regained his control impressively once his first over went for 16 runs, while Doug Bollinger and Mitchell Johnson also bowled with considerable diligence.
When the tourists chased, David Warner finished his series with an unsatisfying stroke, caught behind while trying to leave a delivery from Morkel, who was expensive despite the wicket. Watson was responsible for most of the damage, helping to take Morkel for 20 from the ninth over of the innings, including one mighty blow over long off.
However he was the next man to go, dragging Kallis onto the stumps while trying to glide the ball to third man. Ricky Ponting had made only 10 when he pushed a catch back to the tidy Botha next over, before Clarke and Marsh steadied the innings.
Both played neatly but both would be dismissed with the game still in doubt, Clarke bowled between bat and pad as he advanced to Duminy's first delivery, while Marsh also had his stumps disturbed by Duminy as he made room to push through the offside. Haddin joined Hussey with 67 still to get yet, thanks to Watson's earlier hitting, plenty of deliveries in which to collect them. They took their time against some searching stuff from the hosts, before Haddin unfurled a series of regal strikes to rapidly close in on the target.
A slice to deep point ended Haddin's stay, and Johnson edged behind with 10 still required, but Hussey was on hand to complete the task in the company of Cummins, who struck the boundary off Kallis that relieved the last of the tension.
Amla had chosen to bat first after the hosts named an unchanged team for the third consecutive match, leaving the legspinner Imran Tahir on the sidelines under heavily overcast skies that appeared heavy with potential rain.
Australian retained the allrounder and vice-captain Watson following his back trouble, but dropped another allrounder in Steve Smith to make room for the return of Marsh. Marsh batted in the middle order, allowing Warner to continue his good form at the top of the order in partnership with Watson.
Amla took a liking to Cummins in his first over, punching two boundaries through cover then cutting when the teenager tried to counter with shorter stuff and finally flicking through midwicket when a further over-correction delivered a ball on leg stump.
This early flurry was not indicative of much that followed however, as Bollinger and Johnson in particular delivered handy spells, Johnson striking Amla on the helmet in an echo of his hostile 2009 efforts. Despite the overhead conditions, it was the spin of Doherty that broke through, Graeme Smith sweeping uppishly for Hussey to take an agile catch, diving forward.
Amla and Kallis batted in plenty of comfort and it came as a surprise when the captain was run out, too slow to reach the striker's end after chancing a single to the strong arm of Cummins at short third man. Like Smith, Kallis also miscalculated on the sweep against Doherty to make only one more run than Amla, while Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy perished in vain attempts to lift the scoring rate against parsimonious bowling and an alert fielding unit.
Watson's ninth over, the 46th of the innings, was on course to be a maiden until a single from scampered from the final ball, a becalmed David Miller unable to repeat the free-scoring he had managed in Port Elizabeth.