Australia’s clash with Afghanistan on a steamy evening in Mumbai at the World Cup was the 4,696th ODI ever played.
None have featured an innings even remotely comparable to the one produced by Glenn Maxwell, to haul the Aussies to the most staggering of victories and seal their semi-final spot.
Words simply cannot do it justice; from the depths of despair at 7/91 in the face of an inspired bowling display from an Afghanistan team chasing their own World Cup knockout dream, Maxwell became the first Australian man to score an ODI double-century, finishing unbeaten on 201 off 128 balls of pure, undistilled magnificence.
It would have been enough to secure its status as the greatest one-day innings of all time even without the added caveat of having done it despite battling a debilitating cramp that left him barely able to move – yet still bludgeon fours and sixes to all parts of the Wankhede Stadium – for at least the last 60 of them, as the Indian humidity combined with the fatigue of his rescue act to become the only thing that could possibly stop the onslaught.
“I feel shocking!” an exhausted Maxwell laughed when asked about his condition after the match.
“I haven’t really done a whole lot of high-intensity exercise in the heat – it certainly got hold of me today.
“Lucky enough we [he and Cummins] came up with a plan to stay at the same end for a little bit until I could get some movement back, and luckily enough I was able to stick it out to the end.
“For me, I was still trying to be positive, still trying to take them on and trying to produce bad ball or something else I could score off. I felt like if I’d just defended my way through that, they would have been able to put a bit of pressure [on].
“It would have been nice if it [the double-hundred] was chanceless – I led a charmed life out there, I was very lucky.
“I supposed I just made the most of that – I feel like I’ve had those kind of innings before where I’ve given the chance and I haven’t made the most of it, so to make the most of it and to go on with it tonight is probably the most pleasing thing.
“To see it out, be not out with Patty at the end, is something I’m really proud of.”
Captain Pat Cummins must also receive some small measure of credit for his stoic unbeaten 12 off 68 balls to give Maxwell the anchor he needed to launch: where the skipper had played a similar support hand in the Victorian’s epic century against the Netherlands earlier in the tournament, he repeated the dose to help tire out an Afghanistan attack which had earlier ripped through Australia’s top order with a masterful display of swing bowling.
Together, they put on 202 – the highest ever for the eighth wicket in ODI cricket, and some 70 more than the previous record.
But while Maxwell admitted to a ‘charmed life’ immediately following the match, having been twice dropped – the second, on 27 by Afghanistan spinner Mujeeb Ur Rahman, as easy a catch as can be imagined – and had an LBW appeal successfully overturned, that cannot and should not take away from an innings about which superlatives do little justice.
Finishing with 21 fours and ten sixes – many coming after his cramp made running between the wickets all but impossible – Maxwell demolished pace and spin alike, a reverse-swat off the previously brilliant Azmatullah Omarzai that left the bowler clutching his head in disbelief the most outrageous of a long and glorious list of spectacular shots.
It was Mujeeb in the end who would be dealt, somewhat fittingly, the final blow: with 21 still to get from four overs, Maxwell clubbed three sixes and a four in consecutive balls to bring up his double-ton and his team’s triumph at a stroke.
The win secures Australia a semi-final berth that seemed in real jeopardy when the top and middle order, Maxwell excepted, crumbled in a heap after Afghanistan set an imposing 5/291 thanks to a perfectly timed, yet ultimately overshadowed, unbeaten ton from opener Ibrahim Zadran – his country’s first at a World Cup.
That they are now safe, and guaranteed a knockout date with old foes South Africa, is solely down to Maxwell, with perhaps the only stat that can do his performance justice this: when Cummins strode to the middle with more than 200 still to get, ESPNCricinfo put Afghanistan’s victory chances at 99.79 per cent.
Only Maxwell could possibly have pulled it off – and even he had to outdo himself to achieve it, and deny Afghanistan what would surely have been the finest win in their cricketing history.
The underdogs remain mathematically alive, though would require a significant run-rate boost against the Proteas, or for both New Zealand and Pakistan to lose their final group stages games to Sri Lanka and England respectively, to sneak into fourth.
And it’s hard to imagine their loss in Mumbai will be anything other than a back-breaker at a World Cup which was threatening to become one of cricket’s finest ever Cinderella stories.
Afghanistan left 10 Australians bloodied, battered and beaten at the Wankhede Stadium. The one they couldn’t went and snatched victory from them anyway.
After Zadran’s chanceless century provided the bedrock of a strong Afghanistan first innings after winning the toss and batting first, Australia’s run chase imploded in the face of an inspired bowling performance, all but out of the match after just 19 overs.
It wasn’t the underdogs’ much-vaunted spin attack doing the damage, either. Pace pair Naveen-ul-Haq and Azmatullah Omarzai ripped the heart out of the Australian top order with a masterful display of swing bowling, the latter’s three-ball stint to comprehensively bowl David Warner, entice an edge from an outclassed Josh Inglis and miss a hat-trick by millimetres when a Maxwell nick off a searing inswinger somehow fell short of wicketkeeper Ikram Alikhil among the tournament’s best spells – the first of the all-rounder’s series of lucky breaks.
Only their fielding could have been said to fall short of expectations, Mujeeb’s horrific drop of Maxwell at short fine leg one of a number of messy mistakes on an untidy evening.
Dropped on 21 by Hashmatullah Shahidi at mid-off after confusion between the Afghanistan captain and bowler Rashid Khan, given LBW on 27 only to successfully review – the overturn even coming as a surprise to Maxwell, who had begun to head off before ball-tracker projected Noor Ahmad’s delivery to be bouncing over the stumps – before Mujeeb’s shell on 33, the master blaster wasn’t about to let his surging opponents off the hook.
Bringing up a half-century off just 51 balls and regularly finding the boundary, Maxwell would engage turbo mode from there: blasting Mujeeb out of the attack with a straight four and six, then aiming to do similar with two brutal bludgeons through cover off his replacement spinner Mohammad Nabi, the Victorian would need just 25 further balls to reach three figures.
At the time of the milestone, his eight fellow batters had mustered 73 between them off 122 balls, having also been dismissed a combined seven times, perfectly encapsulating the grandeur of the onslaught.
With Cummins once again for company, having compiled a century stand with the captain likewise dominated by Maxwell against the Netherlands, the pair would repeat the dose with the tailender content to stoically hold up an end – he’d contribute eight this time to the partnership as it reached triple figures.
Even hobbled by a debilitating cramp that left him barely able to hobble between wickets and requiring regular physio treatment, still Maxwell ploughed on.
Effectively on one leg, he’d blast Naveen for consecutive boundaries, the second a brutal straight smack that nearly took out the umpire, while dispatching both Rashid and Nabi for sixes into the leg side stands as the partnership set a new ODI record for the eighth wicket when it passed 138.
On 147, though, a hastily ambled single left Maxwell in agony as a full-body cramp struck: while he’d soldier on after yet another round of treatment, it would seem to be the last time he’d leave the crease.
But a reverse-swatted for four off middle stump to leave Omarzai incredulous, one ball after reaching 150 with an audacious swat through mid-wicket proved he still had tricks up his sleeve.
Capable of dealing only in sixes and fours, with Cummins reduced to seeing out maidens at the other end as he failed to find the boundary, Maxwell’s majesty was all but indescribable – a reverse-whip for six off an Omarzai half-volley outside off as remarkable a shot as has ever been played, given the man who had struck it could barely stand.
A surprise single caught a napping Afghanistan off guard, the pressure now clearly on the underdogs – another six off Naveen brought him to 176, the runs required down to 26 off 35 as the target came within reach even if the Victorian couldn’t last the distance.
Suddenly, it seemed, singles were back on the menu, four coming in quick succession as the threat of Rashid was successfully seen off: with four overs to go and 21 needed, plus with adrenaline appearing to rejuvenate Maxwell, Australia, remarkably, had hit the front.
Two more sixes from the magnificent Maxwell, off the disconsolate Mujeeb brought with it more history: the highest ever score by an Australian in ODI cricket.
Sure enough, in fitting fashion, Maxwell would deposit the spinner, whose simple drop would prove arguably the costliest in cricket history, for another six over mid-wicket, to become the first Australian to an ODI ton, and securing what must surely be the greatest one-day innings ever.
“Just ridiculous,” was Cummins’ assessment of the innings he’d witnessed, most of it from the non-striker’s end.
“It’s got to be the greatest ODI innings that’s ever happened… it’s just one of those days where you just go ‘Yep, when that happened I was here in the stadium’. We feel very lucky to be here.”
It wasn’t always thus for Australia: from the moment he dispatched a loose Mitchell Starc half-volley for four in the third over to kick-start Afghanistan’s innings, Zadran was an immovable object at the crease, his one close shave a desperately tight single to bring up his 100th run that may have caused his downfall.
Indeed, the one period of his innings the 21-year old looked in less than total control was when he moved within reach of his historic milestone, the significance of the occasion threatening to overwhelm the rising star as jabbed Adam Zampa into the off side and took off, a panicked moment that may have caused his downfall with a better throw from Cummins in the covers.
Yet having reached his century off 131 balls, Zadran would add 28 from his final 12 to finish with exactly the flurry the innings required; at 4/216 with six overs remaining as he celebrated, the opener, alongside a swashbuckling late cameo from Rashid (35 off 18 balls), would add 75 more runs, including 30 from the final two, to showcase the value of keeping wickets in hand.
The result was the team’s highest score at a World Cup yet, and what seemed a victory of the highest order for the pragmatic philosophy of coach and former England stalwart Jonathan Trott – himself a thorn in Australia’s side during three successive Ashes series losses between 2009 and 2013.
Trott’s simple, goals-oriented approach to his side’s batting this tournament – his aims of 50 from the first 10 overs, then 100 after 20 and so forth wouldn’t look out of place on a club cricket team’s whiteboard – have been a source of amusement in some corners, but having yielded three emphatic victories in succession and one Maxwell knock short of a fourth, it wasn’t the batting which cruelled Afghanistan in Mumbai.
It was only in the final flurry when Trott’s charges judged it time to up the ante: where other teams would have looked at a platform of 1/121 or 2/173 as platforms from which to explode with wickets in hand, it took until the 38th over for Omarzai to dispatch Starc over long-off for the innings’ first six.
The all-rounder’s freewheeling 18-ball 22, featuring another monster six off Adam Zampa, would provide both a taste of the carnage to come and showcase the undoubted talent the precocious 23-year old would later demonstrate without all doubt with ball in hand.
Because as impressive as Afghanistan’s batting was, it was their bowling that truly turned the contest their way, Australia’s fearsome top order summarily executed within the first ten overs before their own much-vaunted spin attack was even required to exert an influence.
While Omarzai’s star rose sharpest courtesy of his removal of Warner and Inglis, it was Naveen who best summed up that the underdogs would not yield.
Having been launched over his head for four and imperiously over mid-wicket for six by an imposing-looking Mitchell Marsh within three balls, the seamer followed up with a perfect nip-backer to catch the all-rounder on the crease and plumb LBW, the taste of revenge made all the sweeter by the punishment which led to it.
Faced with a salvage job, the middle order, Maxwell excepted, crumbled under the pressure.
Marnus Labuschagne was made to pay the ultimate price for a crucial hesitation mid-pitch that left him fractionally short when Rahmat Shah sidearmed the stumps down, while Marcus Stoinis’ reverse-sweep to a Rashid googly, having looked all at sea against the leg-spinner’s wily variations, summed up a team totally outclassed, save of course for one man and his gutsy captain Cummins.
Despite the win, Australia will face a period of deep introspection before their final group stages clash with Bangladesh; treating this match as anything other than the ultimate, once-in-a-lifetime escape would prove folly for a team with numerous concerns ahead of the knockout stage.
A much-vaunted top order was cannon fodder in conditions which were tricky but far from unplayable, and a bowling attack notionally featuring three of the best fast bowlers in the world was powerless either to remove the majestic Zadran or stop Rashid running rampant at the death.
Of deepest concern must surely be the form of Starc, who headed to India as arguably Australia’s finest World Cup bowler ever.
Yet after tournament-leading hauls of 22 and 29 wickets respectively in 2015 and 2019, the left-armer has just 10 wickets in eight games in the 2023 edition, with an ugly economy of 6.55 per over dented further by figures of 1/70 from nine overs against Afghanistan, including 16 from the final over as Rashid fearlessly swatted two impotent short balls for six.
Unable to find more than the occasional hint of his trademark, lethal swing, Starc’s latest grim evening contrasted unfavourable with the substantial movement Naveen and Omarzai found under the lights – his final contribution in a grim evening choosing not to review a caught behind off Rashid that replays showed had come not off his bat, but rather his off stump.
Maxwell dragged Australia kicking and screaming to victory in Mumbai – they will need to be far, far better from here on out to avoid needing another rescue job which surely cannot come again.