Harare: Glenn Maxwell paid tribute to coach Justin Langer after cracking 56 to help Australia beat Zimbabwe with a ball to spare in Harare on Friday.
Zimbabwe batted first and made 151 for nine wickets in their 20 overs, led by 63 from Solomon Mire.
In reply, Australia reached 154 when Matt Stoinis hit a boundary off the penultimate with five wickets down.
When Maxwell reached his first half century in a T20I since his hundred against England in Hobart in February, he gestured at his eyes. It was a reference to the work he and Langer have put in making sure Maxwell watches the ball.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work with JL recently, making sure I’m watching the ball as hard as I can,” Maxwell said. “I’ve been doing a lot of work with that in the nets, making sure I’m really concentrating. That’s all I’m thinking about at the moment. So that was just a little gesture towards him.”
Australia’s middle order were made to graft early by Zimbabwe, who nipped out openers Aaron Finch and Alex Carey in the first five overs.
Australia took just 35 runs from the Powerplay and it wasn’t until Maxwell began to find the middle of his bat that they started to bring the scoring rate down.
Maxwell was particularly harsh on Zimbabwe’s spinners, collecting sixes off Malcolm Waller, Wellington Masakadza and debutant Brandon Mavuta to bring up a 34-ball fifty in the 17th over.
“It was probably just the timing of when they were bowling,” Maxwell said of his assault on Zimbabwe’s slow bowlers. “I’d got myself in and I’d faced 10 or 15 balls and was able to expand from there. The offspinner came on when I’d been out there for four or five overs, so that was the time for me to go.”
Together, Maxwell and Travis Head, who made 48, put on 103 for the third wicket to steady Australia’s chase.
— Late fightback —
“It’s good batting with a guy like Heady, he takes a lot of pressure off you,” said Maxwell. “With the way he plays, he hits it in different areas and puts some pressure on the bowler. We’ve done it a few times, not just in T20 cricket but in one-day cricket as well.”
The pair seemed to have made the match safe for Australia, but Maxwell’s departure, driving fast bowler Blessing Muzarabani into the hands of Elton Chigumbura at extra cover, sparked a late fightback from the Zimbabweans.
They took three wickets in three overs after getting rid of Maxwell to take the game into the final over, but Stoinis lifted the penultimate delivery over square leg to seal the match.
The challenging total set by the Zimbabweans was thanks mainly to Mire, who made 63 off 52 balls and helped his team recover from the dismissal of Cephas Zhuwao from the first ball of the morning.
Together with PJ Moor he rebuilt the innings with a 64-run fourth wicket stand. Moor eventually fell for 30, chasing quick runs, but Mire brought up a 44-ball fifty in the 17th over.
Zimbabwe then lost four wickets in two overs on the charge at the death, with Andrew Tye once again starring with the ball, but reached a total which very nearly sparked an upset.
Australia’s win in this dead rubber provides a welcome confidence boost ahead of their clash with number one ranked Pakistan in Sunday’s final.