What was soaring higher than Afghanistan’s win probability, when Glenn Maxwell walked out to bat at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday, was Azmatullah Omarzai’s hopes of claiming a hat-trick.
He had just removed Josh Inglis and David Warner, and to greet Maxwell, had called in three slips. Australia, four down at 49, in pursuit of 292, was under the pump.
What Omarzai sent for Maxwell’s welcome was a batter’s nightmare - The delivery angling in, pitching at a length, and then holding its line to square up the batter. Maxwell stood clueless, much like his predecessors at the crease on the previous two deliveries, as the ball flew off his edge and fell just short of the keeper. Afghanistan went for a desperate review but it was enough to give Maxwell an inkling of the heat he was about to face.
At the other end, accompanying Maxwell, was Marnus Labuschagne, up in spirit after a match-saving half-century against England. He’d done it against Sri Lanka as well earlier in the tournament and was probably the best man to steer the innings.
From that point on, at what moment Maxwell stumbled upon the prospect of it being his, and Australia’s, night is hard to guess.
It can definitely not be the calamitous mix-up between him and Labuschagne that cost the latter his wicket. Neither can it be Marcus Stoinis meeting his end with a failed reverse sweep nor Mitchell Starc’s decision to accept his caught-behind despite not nicking the ball.
The Afghan win probability, scaling new peaks over the innings, was now at 99.54%. Australia, meanwhile, was staring down the barrel at 95/7.
His first meeting with the thought of hanging onto hope might have come in the 20th over, bowled by Rashid Khan. Looking to sweep from outside off, Maxwell top-edged the first delivery. It was a regulation catch for Hashmatullah Shahidi at short cover. But Rashid’s strides in the direction of the ball put the skipper off. A last-ditch dive proved insufficient in holding on to the ball.
An over later, Maxwell misread the line in trying to defend Noor Ahmad and was struck on the pad. The umpire raised his finger and Australia plunged deeper into trouble. The customary review expended on the last recognised batter was, obviously, more out of hope than conviction.
Up to two-thirds of the ball-tracker - the pitch and the impact - Maxwell believed his time was up. He started making his way to the dugout. It was only once the tracker completed the third part, and showed the ball flying clear of the wickets, that Maxwell retraced his steps back to the middle.
Just four deliveries later, Maxwell miscued another sweep shot, and this time the top-edge headed into the direction of the fine-leg fielder. Mujeeb Ur Rahman moved a couple of paces to his left and got behind the ball only to put it down.
In retrospect, this was probably the moment that flicked the switch in Maxwell for he hung on for dear life after that. From that point on, there was conviction in his bat swing. He latched onto full deliveries and sent them flying through the on-side while he slapped hard through the off-side.
Even the mishits found a way to pierce the infield and slam into the boundary ropes.
Ticking off personal milestones or suffering severe cramps could not deter him from the target. Not even the ones which sent him twitching on the ground in excruciating pain.
Pat Cummins held one end with his trance-like stay at the crease, and Maxwell found himself in a stand-and-deliver job. The situation demanded the occasional hobble too, with each run across to the other end needing the physio’s aide.
For the last 55 runs, Maxwell was forced into crisis mode. He stood with his front leg cleared out, aiming to swat away any delivery pitching at a length. He lapped up a couple with reverse scoops too.
The worth of his unbeaten essay may have struck Maxwell with the final heave off Mujeeb as he turned to his camp with arms stretched wide. It might still need a day or two to sink in.
But the 128-ball 201 was worth its weight in gold for those who viewed the spectacle - one of the greatest ODI knocks ever.
- From outcasts to title contenders: Coach Manpreet Singh’s Steelers defy odds to reach the top
- Book review: A valuable anthology of Indian sport and place of women in it
- Chandu Borde: We never played for money
- Everton boss Dyche calls for sanctions to be applied in off-season
- Mexican Open: De Minaur battles past Tsitsipas for spot in semifinals