“World-class innings,” Afghanistan’s English coach Jonathan Trot, a victim of many such Australian comebacks, said in admiration. Rashid Khan, their talisman, walked up to a hobbling Maxwell and gave him a bear hug.
Deep within, Trott, Rashid and the rest of the Afghanistan players must be deeply disappointed. The stage was set for them to record their biggest win ever. The final confirmation, if it was ever needed, of their arrival on the big stage. And a giant leap towards the World Cup semi-finals.
ICC ODI World Cup: NZ or PAK or AFG
None of that happened. Instead, they were at the receiving end of an innings that will go down in cricketing folklore. Afghanistan set Australia a target of 292. They had them pinned at 91 for 7. And then Maxwell happened, as he made a mockery of the run chase. Wounded and unable to even stand on his feet, he went on to score an unbeaten 201 to lead Australia to a three-wicket win, which secured their spot in the semi-finals.
At what point it stopped being an Afghanistan vs Australia match and turned into a full-blown Maxwell show is hard to say. The second ball of the 22nd over is a good reference point.
Australia were four down and suddenly, Afghanistan’s par score seemed like an insurmountable peak. And the umpire had adjudged Maxwell leg before off a Noor Ahmad delivery.
Afghanistan began celebrating as if they’d already won the match. The Australian dugout sat there mourning their humiliation. And Maxwell began his march back, convinced it was all over. Then, he glanced at the stadium screen as the review played out. The ball had missed the inside edge, and pitched in line with leg stump. But ball-tracking suggested it was bouncing over the stumps.
Maxwell quickly turned back and returned to the crease. Three balls later, he got another life – this time, dropped by Mujeeb ur Rahman at short fine-leg. The two lifelines were all he needed. And Afghanistan, who had so far in the tournament shown impeccable emotional balance, lost the plot.
Unable to walk, let alone run, for half of his innings due to cramp, Maxwell went berserk as he hit a total of 21 fours and 10 sixes. Cummins held the other end – he faced 68 balls for 12 runs – and ensured Australia did not lose any more wickets.
It felt like Maxwell was batting on a different pitch in different conditions compared to all his teammates, who couldn’t deal with the swing that the Afghan bowlers extracted from the surface.