ICC World Cup: Kapil’s Dev 175 was iconic, but is Maxwell’s 201 more heroic?

The Australian’s knock at the Wankhede Stadium was the climax of unprecedented high drama against the unpredictable Afghan upstarts

The debate over the greatest limited-overs cricket innings has sparked comparisons between Glenn Maxwell's (pictured) 201 not-out against Afghanistan and Kapil Dev's iconic 175 not-out in the 1983 World Cup against Zimbabwe (photo: @ICC/X)
The debate over the greatest limited-overs cricket innings has sparked comparisons between Glenn Maxwell's (pictured) 201 not-out against Afghanistan and Kapil Dev's iconic 175 not-out in the 1983 World Cup against Zimbabwe (photo: @ICC/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The morning after, the debate on the greatest innings in limited overs cricket still rages in right earnest:

Has Glenn Maxwell’s 201 not-out against Afghanistan just overtaken Kapil Dev’s iconic 175 not-out in the 1983 World Cup against Zimbabwe, in terms of quality and impact? 

Comparisons, as they say, are odious — but neither can you ignore it in today’s era of electronic and social media, with facts, stats and opinions all frothing over, all over. This is what the sports fan feeds on, be it a storm in the coffee cup over a 'Best Playing XI', Messi vs Ronaldo, or in the current context, Tendulkar’s 49 ODI centuries vs Kohli’s.

Call it an academic exercise, provided the argument has a sense of history and is not merely dogmatic. 

Let’s face it, though — for an Indian cricket fan who has grown up in the 1980s, it’s impossible for me to look at the legendary all-rounder’s innings at Tunbridge Wells without the prism of romanticism. It’s unfortunate that no TV footage of that epochal innings is available,  but it remains a heroic effort that defined the course of India’s cricketing history. 

Sheer cricketing challenges were aplenty that year, as India had slumped to 17 for 5, and then again to 78 for 7 — the red ball was doing a lot in the early English summer.

If Pat Cummins deserved a ‘supporting role’ Academy Award for his 12 off 68 deliveries, Syed Kirmani did too, with his dour 24 off 56 balls. But it was Kapil Dev’s innings that was to be a heroic exhibition of resolve and uninhibited hitting — and was what helped India stay afloat in the tournament, to go on to script one of the greatest heists in sporting history. 

Maxwell’s innings yesterday, on the other hand, was a different beast.

The similarity between the two ends with the fact that both teams were in the doldrums — with India at 17 for 5, batting first, while the Aussies were 91 for 7 yesterday, chasing 292 in a game that would assure the team a place in the semi-finals. In fact, when Maxwell walked in, with the yellow shirts at 49 for 4, the Afghan spinners were breathing down the Aussies' necks and yet another sensational upset looked on the cards. 

While there has been no doubting the 35-year-old’s ability to strike the ball, he has often faced flak for attempting outrageous strokes and letting his team down.

It’s this risk-taking appetite, though, that likely egged Maxwell on to put his body on the line throughout the innings, especially in the second part of it, from the 100-mark to the double century. 

The phrase ‘playing through pain’ took on a new meaning as well. Maxwell was wincing, literally playing on one leg and looked like collapsing at one point after completing a single. Things turned so bad that at one point, No. 8 Adam Zampa had come down, padded up, to replace a struggling Maxwell — but the latter refused to relent till he took his team over the line.  

There might be questions raised on whether the Afghans lacked the experience to have shown better cricketing sense, with their spinners pitching farther outside the off-stump line and forcing a cramped Maxwell to reach out for the drives — but these are ifs and buts.

As it was, the sheer drama of it all had an almost cinematic flavour, so much so that one wonders whether the International Cricket Council (ICC) should reconsider the ‘runner rule’ — which was abolished in 2011.  

There has been no dearth of memorable centuries in the history of the 50-overs World Cup alone, but the straight-line trajectory leading from the former Indian captain’s efforts to Maxwell's for comparsion is that Dev’s 175 was the highest individual score for a batter coming in at No. 6 or lower — until yesterday.

So Tunbridge Wells will always be a personal favourite, yes, and there will be a few close ones like Adam Gilchrist’s in the 2007 final or AB de Villiers (2015) in recent years. 

However, Maxwell’s at Wankhede yesterday has to be the most heroic of them for now!

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