Australia stormed into the World Cup quarter-finals with a 64-run victory over Sri Lanka, fired by a spectacular maiden one-day international century from Glenn Maxwell at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday. (Full Coverage| Venues | Fixtures)
Not sure if it was his bat, or the pad, that had hit the ball, Glenn Maxwell looked at Ian Gould as he ran a cheeky single. When you are on 99, have never scored an ODI hundred and have 3 previous scores of 90, you are expected to be anxious. And when you are standing in your 100th ODI, as Gould was, you want to be sure that you have a perfect game. With all eyes on him, Gould walked around in the crease undecided. And just when Maxwell was about to raise his bat, Gould raised his leg. The team count went up but Maxwell stayed on 99.
In the next over, as soon as he got strike, Maxwell would scamper a two, this time striking the ball with the middle of the bat. He looked relieved. It would turn out to be an emotional celebration for the man who was reaching a long-awaited milestone after 30 months of making his ODI debut, a period that saw him play 44 games.
After the routine bat-raising, Maxwell would hold his mentor Shane Watson tight. It was like a meritorious ranker giving a thank you embrace to a parent on graduation day. Maxwell, heavily leaning on Watson, his head resting on the all-rounder’s barrel-like chest on the central-square, was the frame of the day with an intriguing back story. With Watson passing 50, his first in the 2015 World Cup, in the same over earlier, the two seemed unburdened. Maxwell was pleased to have Waston around. After the game he would say that Watson had stood for him through thick and thin.
Beyond the boundary, in the dressing room, Aussie captain Michael Clarke, who too scored a half-century, looked pleased. The team’s problem child, after being shifted from opener to bench to No.6 finally had a place of his own. Australia, with the business end of the World Cup approaching, had firmed its batting order.
The 160-run partnership between Maxwell and Watson in 13.2 overs, which came about at the back of a 132 partnership between Steve Smith and Clarke, took Australia to 376, a target that looked seemingly unsurmountable. Kumar Sangakkara (104 from 107 balls) would keep hopes alive for most part of the evening. But about 200 from 20 overs and, later roughly 100 from 10, proved too diffiucult to surmount. Sangakkara, and later Angelo Mathews and Dinesh Chandimal, kept Lanka on track till the 40th over. But with Chandimal retiring hurt after Sangakkara’s dismissal, Lanka called it quits.
Beyond the team goals and the co-hosts’ improved Cup hopes, the match was about a much-deserved individual achievement. On most days, like most lower-order big hitters, he has no time to gauge the pitch, have a good look at bowlers or to build his innings brick by brick. He is the risk-taker who keeps a sharp eye on the run-rate and field placements.
Maxwell doesn’t just have an arsenal of unconventional shots but also has the skill and audacity to tweak them. With slips in place, he plays the switch hit to third man off Mathews. He lifted a Lasith Malinga trademark yorker over extra cover. The flicked six off Seekkuge Prasanna was the shot of the day. The ball after pitching moved way outside off-stump, Maxwell, while on back foot, with some complex manoeuvring of the shoulders, arms and wrists sent it over mid-wicket.
When Maxwell took guard, he was facing the last ball of the 32nd overs and the score was 177/3. It seemed just another day at office. With a minimum of 109 balls to be bowled and Watson at other end and James Faulkner to follow, it didn’t seem Maxwell would get enough balls to face. But while pursuing the team goal, Maxwell today stumbled upon an individual record. He missed being World Cup’s joint-fastest centurion by a ball. If umpire Gould had not belatedly raised his leg, Maxwell would have his hands on a world record.