In the final 10 overs of the Australian chase as a cramp-struck Glenn Maxwell completed a single, an event so rare compared to his routine sixes on the night, he fell flat on the ground. As he was being attended to by the physios, Adam Zampa, their No. 10 batter, was ready at the boundary rope. Maxwell, though, wasn’t going anywhere.
Not on a night where he would script one of the most spectacular innings in ODI cricket in one of the most epic chases in World Cup history. At 91/7 chasing Afghanistan’s 291/5, the Aussies were down for the count at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Tuesday. And then, Maxwell rose.
Rose like only he can, single-handing plucking his team out of that hole and putting them into this World Cup semi-final with an unbeaten 201 off 128 balls. 144 of those runs came in boundaries, with Maxwell effectively batting on one leg and plenty of heart for a large part of that knock battling cramps on a typically humid Mumbai day.
Maxwell was playing T20 style in ODI cricket amid Test-like scenes: farm the strike; go big or nothing. From 91/7, Maxwell and Pat Cummins, who mostly blocked in a 68-ball 12, took Australia home with more than three overs to spare.
The Afghans, who had conquered England, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Netherlands this World Cup, were well in sight of Mount Australia. Until one man stood taller than an entire team.
Batting first after winning the toss, Afghanistan made optimum use of the conditions backed by a couple of firsts. Ibrahim Zadran’s unbeaten 129 made him the first Afghan centurion in a World Cup, and their 291/5 the team’s highest score in the pinnacle of 50-overs cricket.
Then, under lights where the ball did that bit more, their bowlers took over and dazzled. Naveen-ul-Haq got the ball to move away enough to take the outside edge of Travis Head in the second over. Smacked for two sixes by comeback-man Mitchell Marsh, Naveen hit back by going wide on the crease and fuller and straighter to trap Marsh in front.
From around the wicket, Azmatullah Omarzai went through David Warner going for his trademark hoick over fine leg on one knee. Next ball, he got Josh Inglis fishing to slip. Australia, without Steve Smith, were aware of their spin threat. The pacers seemingly came out of syllabus.
Marnus Labuschagne, in a ship-steadying 20-run stand with Maxwell, was sent back after a direct hit by Rahmat Shah. Australia had lost half their side and Rashid Khan hadn’t even bowled two balls.
The star Afghan spinner needed a few more balls to get a reverse-sweeping Marcus Stoinis plumb in front. So rattled were Australia that Mitchell Starc didn’t even review an edge that wasn’t and walked back instead.
Maxwell himself was halfway back to the pavilion on 27 when an LBW decision was reversed off Noor Ahmad’s bowling. A six later, he was dropped by Mujeeb Ur Rahman at short fine leg.
Then began the chanceless six-hitting spectacle from the Big Show, effectively standing on one leg as the night wore on. A sliced boundary over mid-off brought up his half-century. Back-to-back sixes off Ahmad ensued. Mujeeb was smashed for four and bludgeoned for six.
As Maxwell brought up his 100 off 76 balls in the 33rd over, he’d brought the equation down along to 106 off 106. In a 100-run partnership off 89 balls with Pat Cummins, the skipper was 8 off 37.
Maxwell wasn’t even thinking about running, hampered physically and batting (nay, hitting) on one leg. He left it to his hands to do all the work. And so even as he stood unmoved on one leg, he found the gap past cover for four. Next over, a switch hit past short third man for four.
It tricked down to a run-a-ball in the last 10 overs. An opening was all Afghanistan needed for a famous victory. But Maxwell was busy plotting a famous finish. The switch-hit sixes continued, so did the slapped fours. After a brief pause, Maxwell completed a single to bring it down to 32 off 36.
Sure enough, the end too was spectacular — 6, 6, 4, 6 off Mujeeb as Maxwell capped off a magical night with a memorable chase. Earlier, Zadran’s dogged and efficient innings epitomized Afghanistan’s determined and effective batting display that set the base what unfolded in the evening.
Starc and Josh Hazlewood found far less movement in the sultry afternoon even though they did ask some questions. The Afghan openers held their own, The latter pulled his length back, and Rahmanullah Gurbaz picked out the one fielder manning the leg-side boundary going for a pick-up shot off his hips as Afghanistan lost their first wicket for 38. Zadran brought up his fifty in 62 balls and Afghanistan their hundred in the 21st over.
Zampa was blunted by the Afghan batters playing him safe but well. They took their chances against the fifth-bowling option. Rahmat stepped down and lofted Head over mid-off. Two overs later he tried the same shot against Maxwell, except there was a fielder at long-off now waiting for the catch.
From the 20th over right until the 45th, Zadran hit just one boundary. But what he did smartly was find the gaps, rotate the strike and keep the scoreboard ticking. Captain Hashmatullah Shahidi did a bit of that too before becoming the victim of a sizzling Starc yorker in the 38th over. Omarzai immediately upped the ante. Cummins leaked 11 runs off the 40th over, when Afghanistan were 195/3.
After Zampa got Omarzai holed out for an 18-ball 22, buzz heightened around Wankhede with Zadran on 99. Playing out a couple of dot balls, he pushed for a quick single off the third as Cummins took a shy at the stumps from covers. He missed, a diving Zadran got up and ran towards the Afghanistan dressing room in celebration.
Sans a six until then, Zadran broke the shackles against Zampa. Mohammad Nabi joined in, so did Rashid, walking in with chants of his name and smacking Maxwell over the ropes without a helmet. Rashid survived a contentious call around a low catch by Stoinis and then, crouching himself, swat-pulled Starc over the square leg boundary.
But by the time the game ended, the only surviving memory of the game was Maxwell. It was impossible. It was a dream… an impossible dream only made possible by a man known as ‘The Big Show’.