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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Geoff Lemon in Mumbai

Maxwell’s sequence of impossibility beggars belief to rescue Australia

Sometimes, in any sport, all you can do is sit and look and ask: what the hell just happened? Sometimes, it defies any conventional understanding. Glenn Maxwell has produced more moments like this than most. This one, though, in Mumbai on Tuesday night, was the apogee. More than a moment, a string of them. An extended sequence of impossibility, one after the other spiralling off into the floodlights and the smog and the endless jubilant roar, sweat and bewilderment and metallic adrenaline in an impressionist smear.

For decades, nobody made double hundreds in one-day cricket. Belinda Clark took one off the might of Denmark, the anomaly that proved the rule. Sachin Tendulkar got the first in the men’s game, creeping to the mark in 2010. Nine others have done it since, but all in the first innings, beating up a team from well on top. They were brilliant exhibitions without the pressure. Nobody had ever done it in a run chase, from miles behind, needing to win a game on their own.

Maxwell’s impossibility came during another impossibility in the other direction. Afghanistan came to this World Cup as the team that lost every game in the previous edition, the team that sometimes competed but would surely struggle under tournament pressure. Except they didn’t. By this point they had won four matches, and adding a fifth against Australia would set up a clear shot at a semi-final.

Three-quarters of the way through this game, it was in their hands. Their country’s first World Cup century had been scored by Ibrahim Zadran, 21 years old and uncowed by the profile of the opposition. Rashid Khan, as much at home in Adelaide as anywhere, had battered fast runs at the end. A score of 291 was challenging even before the bowling effort in part two.

This innings becomes a wave. Naveen-ul-Haq, the only specialist fast bowler in a team of spin, searing the ball off Travis Head’s edge for nought, then into Mitchell Marsh’s pad after the Australian giant has battered two sixes in no time. Azmatullah Omarzai, the seaming all‑rounder pressed into early service, bending a wildly moving delivery past David Warner’s wild shot. Josh Inglis caught at slip next ball.

Maxwell narrowly surviving the hat-trick with an edge. Marnus Labuschagne hesitating, twisting the bat in his hand as he dives, run out. Rashid into play, Marcus Stoinis trapped in front from an uncharacteristic reverse sweep. Mitchell Starc so befuddled that he doesn’t review a caught behind that he didn’t hit.

Seven wickets down, 91 on the board, 201 to win, and only one result possible. It’s a question of Afghanistan boosting their net run rate, how broadly they can thrash the Australians to underline their arrival at the top table. Maxwell has 22 by then, and it’s a matter of whether he can get a consolation 50 and stem the damage. He overturns an lbw review, has a catch dropped. It doesn’t matter. He will be out at some stage.

He starts dipping his knees low, playing cross-bat power shots from close to the ground. A couple of boundaries from Rashid, then the left‑arm spinner Noor Ahmad. The 50 ticks by. A couple of sixes from Noor, then Mujeeb Ur Rahman. Pat Cummins is blocking at the other end. They still have half the innings to bat, there’s no rush to lose faster than they need to.

Glenn Maxwell receives help from Pat Cummins
Maxwell receives help as he struggles on despite physical agony during his extraordinary innings. Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

Soon enough Maxwell’s hundred is up, a nice consolation on a bad night. Maxwell has been out a lot in the 90s. He starts his batting late in innings, and doesn’t hold back from swinging for the fence when he’s near a milestone. When he has made tons for Australia before, he goes nuts. Celebrates like it’s his last chance, which it often feels like it might be. Not today. Just waves the bat briefly and back to work.

By the time he’s into the 120s, cutting Mohammad Nabi for several fours and whomping a six, his body is cramping up. It is suffocatingly humid in Mumbai. He has fielded for 50 overs, bowled for 10 of them, and came out to bat in the ninth of Australia’s reply. He is shot, legs seizing up as he swings. But he keeps going, bashing Rashid for six, smoking Naveen for a couple of fours when pace comes back.

Nearing 150 he can no longer run. Five Afghan fielders have their heels on the rope, but shots into the deep that would normally be two are not even one. He crabs through for a single and collapses on to his back, legs frozen rigid by cramps. Genuine agony. The medicos finally get him on his feet. Cummins signals to Adam Zampa, padded up to come in. Maxwell says no. He’ll stay.

By now it’s not just a matter of running, he can’t even move his feet to play shots. He stands still and uses pure hand-eye to make contact. Some miss. More hit. Surely one will go up in the air at some point? But they don’t. He’s not slogging sixes. He’s placing balls through the outfield, between boundary riders, to such perfection that they still go for four. Then there’s that six, a switch-hit pull shot from Azmatullah that flies so cleanly into the night it beggars belief.

That over is the 44th, and he’s on 170. His legs start working a little better. He hobbles a few singles. He and Cummins block out Rashid’s last over. By the 47th it’s done. Six, six, four. Take a beat. Five to win, Maxwell on 195, winning the game and raising the double with the one sweep. The partnership is 202. Cummins has made 12 from 68 balls, Maxwell 201 from 128. Australia lock in their semi-final. Afghanistan stare into the distance, bereft. It could not have happened. It was impossible. But there it was.

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