A game is never over until you bowl the last ball. And especially when up against one of the most ruthless sides in World Cup history. On a seemingly quite Tuesday night, Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium roared to an epic display of cricket, first from the Afghanistan bowlers, who pinned Australia to 7 down to stand on the doorstep of the biggest ever upset in the tournament history, and then from Glenn Maxwell, who scripted a knock reminiscent of Kapil Dev’s iconic 175* in the 1983 World Cup, as he single-handedly pulled off one of the most unthinkable heist with the greatest ever World Cup performance.
He was almost dismissed lbw in his first ball, he was hobbling through the final phase of the knock owing to cramps, but Maxwell never gave up. In an innings that defied logic and tested all limits of human capabilities, Maxwell, on one-foot, battled through to score an unbeaten 201, the first ever Australia to score a double century in ODI cricket and third batter to achieve the feat in a World Cup match, as the five-time world champions scripted a three-wicket win.
With the victory, Australia roared to the semifinals, joining India and South Africa, while Afghanistan, who were on a winning spree with successive wins over Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Netherlands, will now be entering a tough battle for the fourth and final knockouts berth.
A historic first World Cup ton from Ibrahim Zadran
Buoyed by the legendary Sachin Tendulkar’s inspirational chat on the eve of the contest, 21-year-old Zadran etched his name in cricket history by scoring Afghanistan first ever World Cup hundred that single-handedly powered the team to a respectable 291 for 5.
Zadran, who only made his ODI debut about four years back, anchored the innings with an unbeaten 129 off 143 ball, scoring a fifth century in just his 26th ODI appearance. Justifying his captain’s decision to bat first, the batter showed immense temperament and fitness, as he carried through the entirety of the innings, lacing eight boundaries and three sixes in his 143-ball knock to notch up the highest score for any Afghanistan batter in World Cup tournaments. He was involved in partnerships throughout the innings, the biggest being an 83-run stand for the 2nd wicket alongside Rahmat Shah.
Despite Zadran’s efforts, it seemed Afghanistan weren’t able to maximise their batting, but it all lasted until the 46th over when Rashid Khan joined the act. He smashed a six and four against Glenn Maxwell in the next over before taking down Mitchell Starc for 16 runs in the final over as Afghanistan managed 65 runs in the last five overs.
Nightmare for Australia
Australia were handed an unprecedented task in a bid to guarantee their semifinal ticket. Never has a score of more than 280 been successfully chased at the Wankhede. And it looked to remain true on Tuesday night as well.
Naveen-ul-Haq struck in his very second ball with the length ball angling in from round the wicket as Travis Head edged it behind. Into his third over, with the new ball, he got rid of the big-hitting Mitchell Marsh with a delivery reminiscent of his dismissal of Jos Buttler in that historic win against England. He went wide of the crease and landed it well outside off but Marsh, like Buttler, was undone by the angle and Naveen’s ability to get the ball to nip back in towards the stumps. The batter failed to connect as the ball struck his back pad in line with the stumps.
With the ball swinging at the Wankhede, Afghanistan seemed to be missing Fazalhaq Farooqi, but Azmatullah Omarzai, probably Afghanistan’s third-best fast bowler, rose to the occasion. After being thrashed for 14 runs in his first over, he bounced back strongly with a maiden over against David Warner, before dismissing him and Josh Inglis in successive deliveries.
On backfoot at 4 down, Australia were in desperate need of a partnership from their last pair of specialist batters. And just when it seemed things couldn’t get more worse for the Aussies, Marnus Labuschagne’s lazy run out sent them 5 down. Rashid Khan struck shortly after in successive overs, dismissing Marcus Stoinis and Starc, which was a fortunate one as the replay showed that the ball never hit the bat and instead flicked the off-stump on its way to the keeper.
Maxwell does a Kapil Dev
The win predictor slipped below 9 per cent when Starc walked back to the pavilion. Australia were on the doorstep of a shock loss while Afghanistan already sniffed a famous win. But Maxwell, who had survived a hat-trick delivery from Azmatullah in his first ball, had other plans. Stitching a valiant stand alongside captain Pat Cummins where he played the aggressor, Maxwell smashed four boundaries to get past the fifty-run mark in 51 balls before racing away towards a century in just 25 more deliveries with three more boundaries and as many sixes.
Afghanistan attack, that had wreaked havoc against the top-order, failed to rattle Maxwell, but the humid Mumbai conditions go the better of the Aussie as midway through he was hobbling through the 22 yards for a single before falling to the ground, clinching his thigh. Adam Zampa, No. 10, had made his way down the stairs from the dressing room, but was sent back.
Maxwell, although still hobbling through on one foot, understood that all he needed to get Australia through were his two hands. Hence with minimal foot movement, Maxwell continued through, reaching the 150-run mark in 28 more deliveries before smashing three sixes and a four, in a row against Mujeeb Ur Rahman, to help Australia complete the highest successful chase ever in ODIs at the Wankhede.