Maxwell carves his parallel universe
Glenn Maxwell shaped to sweep but held his stroke and let the ball go past him instead, turning his back to it in exaggerated manner. It was the third time in two overs that R Ashwin had bowled a wide down the leg side to Maxwell, and each time it had seemed as though the batsman had provoked him into bowling that line.
Other batsmen try and upset a bowler's rhythm by moving conspicuously around the crease; Maxwell had done this with little feints of his hip and shoulder, like a winger toying with a fullback, suggesting he might play a certain stroke without really committing to it.
Ashwin had taken two wickets already. His side was defending a total of 205. But Maxwell had reverse-swept him twice already with clinical placement, and that had clearly rattled him.
"Why are you scared, Ashwin?" yelled a voice from the grass banks. "He's not Afridi!"
The heckler was right. Maxwell isn't really Afridi, even if his strike rate and his ability to clear the ropes puts him in that category of batsman. But he had brought back a vague memory of an entirely different Pakistan batsman in the brief time he had spent at the crease till that point. He had made you think of Javed Miandad.
There's no comparing their careers, of course, or their batting styles, but a common thread runs through their wholly different personalities at the crease. Miandad was cocky in a chatty sort of way; Maxwell seems to project a sort of icy disdain. Both approaches, though, are directed towards the same end, that of getting under the bowlers' skins.
This aspect of Maxwell's game surely played some role in two of his most notable international innings so far. Last year, in Bangalore, he had walked in at 74 for 4, with Australia going at under four-and-a-half runs an over while chasing 384 in the deciding match of the ODI series against India. Maxwell, impervious to the prevailing circumstances, came in and smashed 60 off 22 balls.
During the World T20 last month, Australia lost two wickets in their first over against Pakistan while chasing 192. Maxwell walked in and tonked 74 off 33 balls. In the time he was at the crease, Aaron Finch scored a wholly prosaic 37 off 32 at the other end. Finch carried on to make 65, but none of the other Australians got into double figures as Pakistan wrapped up a 16-run win.
Maxwell, that day, seemed to bat in a bubble that excluded everyone else, including his partner at the other end. It didn't even have room for the match situation. The bubble broke when he was dismissed, and normal service resumed.
Friday was similar. Punjab were chasing 206, and were 31 for 1 when Maxwell walked in. He saw two more wickets fall before David Miller joined him, at 52 for 3. Maxwell's response to all of this wasn't so much "no problem, I'll handle it" as "I don't really care".
You have to be extremely talented to play that way, of course, and there were a couple of occasions when he caressed the ball through the off side with so much grace that you had to rub your eyes and wonder what was going on. There was a bit of Ricky Ponting in the dip of his head at the highest point of Maxwell's backlift, and in the smooth downswing of his bat. Yes, him too.
In the end, Maxwell's 43-ball 95, which set Punjab up to win with a level of comfort that didn't seem possible when he had begun his innings, left you pondering a parallel universe. Here was a man who batted like a weird mix of Miandad and Ponting who, in between the flowing drives, the clever laps and reverse-sweeps, slogged rather crudely at a number of deliveries, timing some, missing some, never seeming to care either way. It made you wonder what sort of a batsman he would be if Twenty20 didn't exist.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo