Patrick Noone delves into the analytical archives to reflect on one of the most thrilling World Cup innings in recent memory.
When we look back at previous editions of the Cricket World Cup, it is often tempting to pick out features that have come to define each tournament. Whether it’s the start of India’s love affair with ODI cricket in 1983, the switch to coloured clothing in 1992 or the birth of the pinch-hitter in 1996, every tournament has something which sets it apart from the others.
In 2015, one of the enduring features was an unprecedented level of run scoring, particularly late in the innings. The regulations that allowed just four men outside the 30-yard circle in the last ten overs, in addition to a five-over batting Powerplay that permitted just three men outside and had to be taken before the 36th over, meant that teams had more licence than ever to tee off and turn the last 15 overs into a run-drenched slog-fest.
The run rate in the last 15 overs of the 2015 tournament was 7.45, the only time in the last five editions that that figure has been above six runs-per-over, let alone seven.
Australia’s Glenn Maxwell was the perfect player to take advantage of the 2015 regulations. The all-rounder had already lit up the tournament with 66 and 88 against England and Afghanistan, respectively and went into his side’s match against Sri Lanka at the Sydney Cricket Ground with a tournament strike rate of 189.02 from three innings.
Australia built a solid platform against Sri Lanka as fifties from Steve Smith and Michael Clarke guided them to 175-3, when the latter was dismissed for 68 in the 32nd over. That brought Maxwell to the crease and, after Smith got out four balls later, paired him with Shane Watson. It was the perfect storm for a player of Maxwell’s skillset: a platform had been laid, he was at the crease just before the batting Powerplay and had a batsman at the other end that didn’t require him to farm the strike.
What followed was one of the most destructive innings ever seen in a World Cup match. It wasn’t the fastest hundred in the tournament’s history – at 51 balls, it was one ball slower than Kevin O’Brien’s knock against England in 2011 – but there can be few centuries as eye-catching as this one.
Maxwell’s first show of aggression was off the seventh ball he faced when he charged Sachithra Senanayake, lofting a drive over mid-off for four. It was the first of six fours he struck off Sri Lanka’s spinners, with Seekkuge Prasanna coming in for the roughest of treatments.
The leg-spinner bowled 12 balls to Maxwell and conceded 34 runs. Five of those deliveries came in the 37th over and yielded 16 runs. From the first ball he faced, Maxwell disdainfully got down on one knee and carted Prasanna high into the stands over deep backward square leg. Two balls later, he cleared short third man with an impetuous reverse sweep that bounced once before reaching the rope.
Maxwell used the various kinds of sweep – conventional, slog and reverse – as his boundary options throughout his innings. Of the seven sweeps he played, four went for four and one for six. This meant that the majority of Maxwell’s boundaries came square of the wicket while, curiously, none occurred through mid-on.
Maxwell was never one for orthodoxy though, and the sheer audacity of some of his shot selection had already garnered him a cult following among cricket fans around the world. The phrase ‘Maxwellball’, a term invented to imply that Maxwell was playing a game different to everyone else, had been coined as early as November the previous year, but this was the innings he became mainstream. This was when he announced himself as a cricketer who belonged at the highest level and all talk of ‘potential’ was momentarily put to bed.
That said, Maxwell played just one shot categorised as a ‘slog’ throughout his innings. Often, we hear commentators refer to batsmen playing ‘proper cricket shots’, meaning those which subscribe to a traditional technique, usually low risk, never slogs. Maxwell might not have been slogging, but some of the shots he was playing were decidedly improper, audacious to the point of rudeness. This was a different kind of batting – fearless, innovative and thrilling.
At the time, Maxwell’s innings felt like the start of something special; a player with all the talent in the world realising his potential and defining his role in the most emphatic fashion. As it is, this remains Maxwell’s sole ODI hundred, the apex of a perpetually uncertain 50-over career.
Changes in the fielding regulations following that tournament, allowing five fielders outside the circle in the last ten overs, have not helped him, nor have the peculiarities of the Australian selection process. Maxwell batted as low as seven in the home series against India in early 2019, while at other times he has been left out of squads and teams altogether.
There have been glimpses of Maxwell’s outrageous potential since that run-soaked afternoon in Sydney – a Test hundred in Ranchi, as well as three T20I tons – but none felt as seminal as that maiden international three figure score. On that day, we all got a peek at what a Maxwellball world would look like: bold, daring and above all, extremely fun.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.