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ICC World Cup: Australia beat Afghanistan by 3 wickets to enter semi finals

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In ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, Australia have entered semi finals defeating Afghanistan by 3 wickets at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai last night. Australia surpassed the target of 292 runs scoring 293 for 7 in 46.5 overs.

Glenn Maxwell produced one of the best knocks of the World Cup to help Australia snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against the spirited Afghanistan team. Maxwell, battling cramps, hit 201 not out in 128 balls as he single-handedly steered Australia from 91 for 7 to successfully chase down 292. He was declared player of the match.

Earlier, opting to bat after winning the toss, Afghanistan posted 291 for the loss of five wickets in stipulated 50 overs. For Afghanistan, Ibrahim Zadran was the highest scorer who remained not out at 129 off 143 balls.

There is no footage from Tunbridge Wells and only those that were present at the venue 40 years ago will perhaps be able to attest if Kapil Dev’s incredible exploits have been matched, or even surpassed by Glenn Maxwell, who produced an innings of a lifetime to put Australia in the 2023 World Cup semifinal. Maxwell cramped, hobbled, batted on one leg and finished with an astonishing 201* off 128 balls as Australia recovered from 91/7 to chase down Afghanistan’s 291.

Maxwell registered the highest ODI score while chasing and put on a staggering 202-run partnership for the eighth wicket to which his partner, Pat Cummins, contributed 12 off 68. But beyond the numbers, Mumbai – the spiritual home of Indian cricket – was witness to a theatre of the absurd in which Maxwell defied both belief as well as his physical limits.

In the 41st over of the chase, with victory still 55 runs away, Maxwell completed a single to long on and convulsed, collapsing to the turf in pain after having spent a good five hours out in the muggy confines of this famous stadium. The umpire looked concerned and the physio charged out – not for the first time – to tend to him. Adam Zampa, Australia’s No.10 batter, had made the walk down the steps from the dressing room, fully ready to take strike. And yet, Maxwell carried on. He hit five sixes and five fours thereafter, without so much as moving his feet and relying only on his hand-eye co-ordination to take Australia past a disbelieving Afghanistan.

An hour and a half before Maxwell sent a 10th projectile into the Mumbai sky (he also hit 21 fours), Hashmatullah Shahidi and his team had every reason to believe they had added another former champion, and arguably the greatest of them, to their list of scalps this tournament. They had the five-time winners spooked to the point where Mitchell Starc walked off despite not edging a ball. It had, in fact, gone to the ‘keeper off the stump.

Naveen ul Haq and Azmatullah Omarzai had found swing under the lights and snared a brace of wickets each. The latter had dismissed David Warner and Josh Inglis off successive balls and Maxwell walked out to deny the hat-trick. Marnus Labuschagne then ran himself self out before the star man, Rashid Khan, added the wickets of Stoinis and Starc. Australia were tottering while Afghanistan were bristling with energy on the field.

Then came the fateful 22nd over, bowled by Noor Ahmad. With the second ball, the left-arm legspinner had Maxwell play down the wrong line and won an LBW appeal with the umpire. Maxwell reviewed, more in hope than with any conviction, and had begun walking to the dressing room when DRS projected the ball to be bouncing over the stumps. Three legitimate deliveries later, he attempted a sweep but couldn’t get on top of the bounce and ended up lobbing a simple catch to short fine-leg, where Mujeeb Ur Rahman inexplicably dropped it. Maxwell was on 33.

Those two reprieves somehow seemed to turn a switch inside him. And he began to play his shots. A half-arm jab from Rashid in the next over nearly went over the ropes and a slog-swipe off Noor whistled to the mid-wicket fence. So far ahead were Afghanistan that they didn’t quite comprehend the turning of the tides, not even when Maxwell got to a 51-ball half-century. Then he added the next 50 to his score in just 25 more balls and those in the Afghanistan dugout were now pictured shifting uneasily in their seats.

Shahidi backed his team’s spin strengths to a point where he kept his two seamers away from the attack for too long. When Naveen did return, the complexion of the game had changed and Australia needed under 100 runs to win. Pat Cummins, the Australia captain, had made just 8 runs when the partnership had touched 100 and 11 when it passed 150. By then Maxwell’s movements had been severely restricted by the bout of cramps and he began denying singles, choosing instead to stand and swing boundaries at will. Cummins, at the other end, was happy to play out maidens, fully aware that Maxwell’s hits were keeping the asking rate well in control. And Afghanistan had become powerless to deny this duality. As fate would have it, it was a Mujeeb over that sealed their fate. Maxwell went dot, six, six, four and six to round off one of the most incredible games of cricket in World Cup history by becoming the first man from his country to score an ODI double hundred.

From an Afghanistan point of view, it was a crushing end to a day that had promised so much. They’d won the toss and hedged their bets on putting Australia under scoreboard pressure on a ground that is notoriously tough to defend on. Ibrahim Zadran stitched half-century stands with Rahmat Shah and Shahidi enroute to becoming the first Afghan batter to score a World Cup century. Zadran carried his bat through to score 129 off 143. Rashid Khan provided the finishing kick with a sensational 18-ball 35 and the pair of them added 75 from the final six overs to take Afghanistan to their highest score in ODI World Cup history. All of it, however, ended up being footnotes at the end of the night.

Brief scores: Afghanistan 291/5 in 50 overs (Ibrahim Zadran 129*, Rashid Khan 35*; Josh Hazlewood 2-39) lost to Australia 293/7 in 46.5 overs (Glenn Maxwell 201*, Pat Cummins 12*; Rashid Khan 2-44) by three wickets

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