Australia's Glenn Maxwell celebrates after winning the 2023 ICC Men's Cricket World Cup one-day international (ODI) match between Australia and Afghanistan at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on November 7, 2023.
Image: Indranil Mukherjee / AFP
Movie scripts and cricket matches are often compared, but in cricket, a team sport, there are usually many heroes unlike cinema, where the lead does all the hard work. However, what unfolded in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium on November 8 was unforeseen.
Like a typical Bollywood hero, Australia’s Glenn Maxwell was limping, getting back up, laying back down, but not giving up. He was being thrown punches from all around, yet he didn’t leave his ground. Most of his body was jammed, he could barely move or run, yet he came out victorious.
Sounds Bollywood? Ask any cricket fan and they would tell you it was way better than any blockbuster movie. It all began in the ninth over of the second innings. Afghanistan had a strong Australian side on the wall. After notching up an above-par total of 292 runs in the 39th match of the ICC World Cup 2023, Afghanistan was in the driver’s seat as they pushed the Aussies to 49-4 in 8.2 overs in the chase.
As Maxwell, who had missed the previous match due to an injury, walked out to bat, the clouds were looming high for Australia. Maxwell is known for his explosive batting style. This situation wasn’t suited for him at all. The equation demanded him to stay calm and play as defensively as he could.
He tried doing that for a bit. But in no time, the troubles multiplied for Australia. They were 91-7 in 18.2 overs.
The commentators were talking about how Afghanistan could improve their net run rate (NRR) to stand a better chance of qualifying for the semi-finals. Afghanistan was set to make history. The crowd at Wankhede was rooting for them. Even the Australian dressing room had given up hope.
But like a movie, a turnaround was waiting; just that nobody saw it coming. The best of scriptwriters would have failed to think of what happened ahead. Even before it went to the wire, there was drama—and a lot of it. Also read: Could Mohammed Shami end up being India's World Cup hero?
Maxwell was on 33 and he tried to sweep a delivery that pitched outside the off stump. It caught his top edge and looped in the air. If at all there was any hope left, it was gone, but Mujeeb ur Rahman made a mess of the opportunity. It slipped out of his fingers, giving Maxwell another life.
The stars had aligned in his favour, as he got lucky a few times earlier as well. When he was on 27, the on-field umpire adjudged him out LBW, but he asked for a review, out of curiosity. When the hawk-eye was displayed and Maxwell saw the ball was pitching in line with the wickets, he started walking. He thought he was out, but as he was walking to the pavilion, the replay showed the ball going over the wickets.
These close calls turned something around inside him. All of a sudden, he unleashed what he is known for: A merciless attack on the bowlers. He knew there was no option left. He either had to give up or somehow make the opposition lose the momentum.
“I suppose for me it was still trying to be positive, still trying to take them on and trying to produce bad balls or something else I could score off. Even with the LBW, that was just going over the top, that was probably the kick-start I needed to sort of tell myself to start playing my shots and be a bit more proactive,” Maxwell said in the post-match interview.
The target was huge and Australia had just three wickets left. Like a warrior, 35-year-old Maxwell took risks and ensured he attacked the right areas. Anything too short or too full was dispatched to the boundary. He made it a habit with time.
Afghanistan, who were fully in the game, started feeling the pressure. Maxwell was taking the game away from them and they tried everything they could to stop him. Australian captain Pat Cummins played a brilliant supportive role at the other end. He ensured he was with Maxwell, didn’t try anything silly and gave him as much strike as possible.
The target was closing in, but one more test awaited Maxwell. The Mumbai heat got the better of him. He was suddenly lying on the ground in a lot of pain, holding his back. He got cramps and those worsened with each minute. There came a time when he could not move at all. He was screaming in pain.
Even the Australian camp thought he could not continue. Adam Zampa, the next batter, walked down the stairs and reached in front of the boundary ropes to step in and replace him. But despite the pain, Maxwell refused to leave the ground. He got up on his feet and signalled that he would continue.
This dented Afghanistan’s hopes further. However, they had one advantage: Maxwell wasn’t able to run singles. He had one option: Hit a boundary or concede a dot ball. With every shot, he felt a jerk in his body and screamed. His lower body was stuck, but he kept hitting fours and sixes all around the park—just using his hands and eyes. The cricket world had seen all kinds of dramas, but this was one of a kind.
“Ridiculous. Don't know how to describe it. Great win! It has got to be the greatest thing that has ever happened. One of those days people will say yeah, I was at the stadium for this game,” said Cummins, who made 12 not out off 68 in the historical partnership.
With 21 needed off 24, Maxwell smashed three sixes and a four off Rahman to finish the game in 46.5 overs and complete his unbeaten double-century. He did not pull off a huge celebration. Like a real true hero, he smiled and let everyone around express their emotions. He even acknowledged the luck factor in pulling off this improbable innings. “Luckily enough, I was able to stay till the end,” he said while receiving the Player of the Match award.
Maxwell’s unbeaten 201 off 128 balls, which broke a string of records, was termed as the best one-day international innings in cricket history by even Sachin Tendulkar, arguably the greatest cricketer of all time. “From Max pressure to Max performance! This has been the best ODI knock I’ve seen in my life,” Sachin wrote on Twitter.