You can keep your tied semi-finals. Don’t bother me with iconic hundreds in deciders. Don’t even start about batting revolutions in the first ten overs.
No, friends, the greatest World Cup memory of all is Glenn Maxwell’s breakthrough century on a balmy Sydney afternoon back in 2015.
Some might say a low-stakes group win against Sri Lanka by a dominant team couldn’t produce the most delightful moment of all time.
But where do we begin? Maxwell made the fastest one-day hundred by an Australian that day, blazing there in 51 balls.
It was the second-fastest in a World Cup, one delivery behind Kevin O’Brien’s epic when the Irish stunned England just before St Patrick’s Day.
Maxwell’s may not have fallen in such a potent context of national identity. It wasn’t a symbolic strike against a historical oppressor.
But it had emotional heft, it had realness, it had something that went beyond politics to the heart of the human condition.
At the time, Glenn Maxwell had a difficult relationship with centuries. Coming in to bat at six or seven or even eight, they were rarely a possibility in one-day games.
If he did get time at the crease it meant Australia had lost a chunk of wickets early and he was supposed to sensibly rebuild.
But of course that wasn’t his style, preferring innings like his 60 from 22 balls in Bengaluru in 2013, making the pace for James Faulkner to set the previous record for Australia’s fastest ton. For a while, it looked like they would chase India’s 383.
In that same series, Maxwell had his first near-milestone, smiting five balls into the Ranchi crowd including a trademark switch-hit off Ravi Ashwin, but getting trapped by a seaming ball on 92.
In the 2014 IPL, he racked up scores of 90, 95, 89 and 95 in the space of a few games, all nudging or beating a strike rate of 200.
In Harare later that year, he poleaxed Zimbabwe with 93 from 45 balls before a catch was held in the deep.
Against England in Perth before the World Cup, he saved Australia in a tri-series final but holed out for 95. And against Afghanistan in the World Cup, he looted 88 from 39 balls before skewing a catch as he tried to clear cover.
What this showed was that he didn’t change his game for milestones. None of these dismissals came from nervous prods or frazzled decisions.
They came late in the innings, meaning Maxwell solely wanted to hit as far as he could. Where other players might have eased up and worked the last few runs into the gaps, he kept aiming to clear fences.
Nor did this change after his breakthrough. At the MCG in 2016 he was on 96 with scores level against India when he tried to launch a six. In Dubai in 2019 he reached 98, but was run out in the last over chancing a Pakistani outfielder’s arm.
Self-preservation never came into it. Only maximising the score.
Which is what happened on the day he broke through. He didn’t play like it, but the milestone mattered. Maxwell was maligned, cast as wild and intemperate. The easiest justification was that he hadn’t registered a hundred for Australia.
While he still has critics who view him as undisciplined, they’ve at least had to move that particular set of goalposts.
When he came to the crease in Sydney the score was 175 for 3, with 32 overs gone. What followed was classic Maxwell: fearless through the line, hitting clean and long whenever the chance arose, and sometimes manufacturing the chance when it didn’t.
His time in the 90s was nervous for anyone supporting him. A near catch that Kumar Sangakkara couldn’t reach. An anticlimax on 99 when the umpire ruled a leg bye. Finally a chip over mid-off, landing safely, allowing him back for two.
The man himself cried out at the ground as he ran, waving his clenched fist, thrashing his bat through the air, a dozen emotions competing for face time.
One detail made it even more special.
Before the World Cup he had started to buy into the criticism. To wonder if he was good enough. The teammate who put an arm around his shoulders was none other than Shane Robert Watson.
Watto knew better than anyone about self-doubt. He knew criticism. He sits firmly in the conversation as Australia’s most maligned player, despite an outstanding white-ball record and every award the game could bestow.
Watson in his older and wiser years took it on himself to look after young players arriving in the team. He made himself Maxwell’s source of reassurance, ongoing through a World Cup where the Victorian’s contributions kept mounting in both style and substance.
And when that hundred finally arrived, there at the other end was Watson, blasting out the biggest smile imaginable as he ran down to wrap up his friend in a hug so bearish that Maxwell will feel safe for the rest of his life.
Maxwell buried his head in Watson’s shoulder, completely overcome. It was a hug that nearly knocked Watson’s helmet off, tipping it back on his head as he pounded Maxwell on the back and beamed like a full moon.
They put on 160 runs in a dozen overs together that day, vaulting Australia to an eventual score of 376.
Maxwell made the first of his three T20 centuries in 2016, then a Test ton in India in 2017.
To this day, only two Australians have made hundreds in all three formats of the game. One is Maxwell. The other is Watson.
And for that moment at the SCG, alone in the middle of the pitch while thousands watched on, they were there: two friends who had faced down doubt standing safe in the warmest embrace, in a moment of pure white light.
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