Warner and Maxwell blazed 161 runs for the fourth wicket off just 89 deliveries, the world record for the fourth wicket, smashing the previous mark of 114 unbeaten set by Umar Akmal and Shoaib Malik for Pakistan against the UAE in Bangladesh in the Asia Cup last week.
But their dismissals in the last two overs – Maxwell for a powerful 75 off just 43 balls and Warner for a tremendous 77 off 40 deliveries – gave South Africa a sniff with Chris Morris and Kagiso Rabada delivering superb last overs in the second KFC T20 International at Bidvest Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg on Sunday.
But they had too much to do because of the earlier punishment meted out to pacemen David Wiese (4-0-58-0) and Morris, whose first three overs went for 34 runs, as well as to ace spinner Imran Tahir, who conceded 47 runs in his four overs.
South Africa had earlier posted 204 for seven after being sent in to bat, thanks to captain Faf du Plessis slamming 79 off 41 balls, which included a sensational last-over assault which brought 20 runs off the first four deliveries bowled by John Hastings.
It looked like it would be enough after Australia slumped to 32 for three inside the powerplay, with Dale Steyn, back in the Proteas team for the first time since the Boxing Day Test against England, taking two wickets in his second over.
But then Warner and Maxwell were successful in completely turning the tide. The left-handed Warner, who was named man of the match, was more selective than Maxwell, but scored quicker, collecting six fours and five sixes.
Maxwell belted seven fours and three sixes and seemed to have the knack of choosing the right balls to slog.
Rabada, who had produced one of the greatest deliveries of his career to york Aaron Finch for two in the first over, and then plucked one of the best catches ever seen at the Wanderers, catching Steven Smith (19) one-handed behind himself at third man off Steyn, bowled Warner with the first ball of the final over, leaving Mitchell Marsh and James Faulkner to anxiously gather the remaining 11 runs needed for a series-levelling win.
The final ball came with South Africa needing to restrict Australia to just a single, but Marsh’s straight drive was fumbled by David Miller rushing in from long-on.
Rabada was the star of the show with the ball, finishing with two for 25 in four overs, while the return of Steyn was also successful, as he took two for 32.
Being sent in to bat first, it was obvious South Africa needed to get 200+ and the early platform laid by Quinton de Kock (44 off 28) put them on course.
The skills of Faulkner, who took three for 28, pegged the Proteas back in the closing overs until the brilliant hitting of Du Plessis in the last over.
Miller was once again the only one of the middle-order to shine, scoring 33 off 18 balls and providing some much-needed impetus as Du Plessis tried to bat through.
The off-spin of Maxwell was also tidy, going for just 30 runs in four overs.