With the four-Test series between India and Australia locked at one game apiece, and with India holding all the precious momentum, according to Newton’s Third Law of Second Test Fightbacks, Australia had only one sensible option to keep themselves in the series.
That option? Glenn James Tiberius Maxwell.
Here are the ratings for the Third Test between India and Australia.
An injury to Mitch Marsh opened the door for Maxwell to rejoin the Australian Test team, and, Maxwell being Maxwell, he exploded through the window to claim the vacant number six spot.
Steve Smith won the toss and chose for Maxwell to bat first. Sadly, the ICC’s stubborn refusal to allow runners these days meant that Dave Warner and Matt Renshaw made their way to the crease without the guiding hand of Maxwell. This inspired Milhouse levels of frustration in Australian fans, as we all impatiently waited for the fireworks factory.
But soon enough, Warner, Renshaw, Shaun ‘Poochie’ Marsh and Pete Handscomb departed, leaving Australia at 4/140, as Maxwell joined Smith at the crease.
The pair put on 191 for the fifth wicket. In the process, Maxwell kept fans everywhere entertained with his predictable brand of unpredictability. He batted circumspectly at first, then brought up his half-century with a six, then failed to bring up his century with a twelve, instead batting out a maiden on 99, before slashing an edge past the slips.
He inspired nonsense at the other end, as Wriddhiman Saha lunged for a ball trapped between Smith’s legs while the Australian captain tumbled to the ground. Then trumped it with nonsense at his end as he toyed with the idea of batting out Day Two with just half a bat.
He batted in a baggy green. He became only the second Australian (after his former captain Shane Watson) to have scored centuries in all three forms of the game. He claimed the record for the best 50 to 100 conversion rate in Test match history.
It was pretty much the best day of Test cricket so far.
But Maxwell wasn’t the only new cricketer in the Australian side. Following horrific confusion on the Mitchell Marsh hit instructions, Mitchell Starc had also headed home, meaning Pat Cummins returned to the side for his second Test.
It had been almost six years since Cummins had previously bowled. To put that into perspective, when Pat Cummins had last bowled in a Test, Ned Stark was still alive.
(Actually, that’s not quite true, but you get the gist. His previous Test was a long time ago.)
So long ago that Smith seemed to not know the difference between Maxwell and Cummins, as he bowled the former in safety-first two-over spells during India’s first innings, while asking Cummins to slog through 39 overs in total. Luckily, Cummins was up to the task, as he led the attack with four wickets.
Lovely to be able to exclaim ‘OMG! Pat’s back!’ in joy at his performance rather than in despair at a fresh set of stress fractures.
Speaking of injuries and Cummins’ wickets, Virat Kohli was snared by the Australian quick for just six. This came about immediately after Maxwell feigned a shoulder injury while fielding the ball, in light-hearted mockery of the Indian captain who had spent most of the Australian innings off the field with a shoulder injury.
There had been some criticism of Kohli’s injury from Australian fans. Initially, there was anger at the way that Kohli had immediately looked to the dressing room for advice on how his shoulder should be treated. Later, the enthusiasm with which he waved the batsmen in when India finally declared at 9/603 had some questioning the veracity of the injury.
I don’t see it that way. I believe Kohli has spotted a fundamental flaw in cricket and is determined to make it a better game. For too long, cricket has been played between two teams of eleven players. But if American football has taught us anything, specialist squads for offense and defence are the best ways to play sport. And Kohli is showing the way.
Come on, cricket. Let’s get cracking. By the time the Ashes rolls around, I want to be able to holler out ‘Great D, Cummo!’ as the Australian fielding unit trudges off the MCG to be replaced by the batting unit.
India’s declaration was made possible primarily by the batting performance from Cheteshwar Pujara, who made 202 from 525 balls. A good effort. But a little disappointing that he wasn’t able to knuckle down and face a full thousand deliveries from the exhausted Australian attack.
In the end, he fell a massive 475 balls short of that grand landmark. A sad lack of mental discipline from the Indian number three.
Australia went into their second innings 152 runs in arrears. More immediately relevant, however, they had to bat for a little over a day to save the Test.
And, somehow, they did so. Handscomb and Marsh were the heroes, putting on a 124-run partnership that selfishly denied us all the chance to see Maxwell bring up another century for the Test. Oh, sure, when Marsh departed there were still 66 balls remaining in the Test, more than enough for a Maxwell special.
But sadly, the great man fell agonisingly short of his second ton, departing instead for a soul-stirring two.
Still, there’s alway next Test.
It feels so damn good to be able to say that.