An anatomy of an Australian original: Glenn Maxwell
Glenn Maxwell is in a slump.
The 26-year-old Victorian has started the season with scores of 0, 23, 29, 0, 2 and 7 for the Australian T20 and one-day teams, followed by 7 and 12 for Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League.
On a warm, muggy Brisbane night, December 28, 2014, Maxwell walks out to bat at the Gabba with Stars on 5 for 1, chasing 165 against Brisbane Heat. He carefully marks his guard and faces up to Ryan Duffield, a left-arm fast-medium bowler, who has just dismissed Cameron White. Delivered from over the wicket, the brand new Kookaburra landed on a good length on fourth stump and forced the right-handed White - who had to account for the possibility of an inducker on a greenish Gabba pitch - to fend at the ball, which continued on its natural angle and caught his outside edge.
Duffield runs in to bowl to Maxwell and delivers a ball that, at the point of release, looks identical to the previous one. Maxwell shuffles down the pitch, away towards leg, and raises his bat to play a shot. About three-quarters of the way down the pitch, the ball starts swinging back sharply. Maxwell diligently tracks the ball's flight path, watching it all the way until it smashes into the top of leg stump. He stays frozen, one and a half steps down the pitch and one and a half steps wide of leg stump, with his bat at the top of its backswing, like a bronze statue modelling a textbook leave. He has been bowled for a golden duck.
Up in the Channel 10 commentary box, Adam Gilchrist jumps back in his seat like a kid who has jabbed a metal fork into a power socket. His eyes and mouth pop open. His face wears a look of pure shock. Damien Fleming, his co-commentator, sits still in his seat, but his jaw nearly hits the ground and his eyes widen before moving slowly to the replay on his TV monitor to confirm if what he has just seen really happened.
"I'm stunned, I'm speechless," says Gilchrist on air. "I really don't know what to say there."
"I've never seen that before," adds Fleming.
"Well may they celebrate," says Gilchrist as the fielders hug, high-five and pat a jubilant Duffield on the back, "but that is the most extraordinary dismissal I've ever seen in the game."
"Forget about the results. Just relax and enjoy your cricket and this whole experience of living and travelling in a foreign country"
Maxwell instantly becomes the punchline of a national joke, as the most embarrassing moment of his career is played out on one of Australia's top-rated TV programmes. In a matter of seconds, his leave trends worldwide on Twitter. Over the next few days, replays of the dismissal will lead evening sports bulletins on TV and radio and photos of it will be plastered all over the newspapers.
With Australia's ODI squad for the home World Cup due to be announced in 14 days, Maxwell worried that he would miss out on selection for the first time since making his debut in August 2012.
"It wasn't a very good time," says Maxwell over lunch with the Cricket Monthly at the MCG's Hugh Trumble Café late last year on one of those grey, mid-November early afternoons when the sun can't quite force its way through the blanket of clouds. His memories of that leave are vivid. Going out to bat that night he had felt confident and relaxed. He had nothing in his head except for two clear thoughts: "bat normally" and "get through your first ten balls".
Then, as Duffield ran in to bowl, Maxwell looked at the field. "Cover was really wide, mid-off was really straight, there was a big gap at extra cover," he recalls, "and I was like: 'He's going to bowl back-of-a-length, I'll play a flat-bat through wide extra cover, I'm going to get four.' And I was like: 'Glenn, that is so easy. Let's just do it. Yep. Commit to that. Yup, no worries.'"
When Duffield released the ball, Maxwell's first thought was: that's going to be a wide. "And then," he recalls, "as the ball's halfway down, I'm just seeing the ball change direction and I just froze… because it wasn't back-of-a-length exactly where… I thought it was going to [be]… I had nothing. I didn't know what to do. I'd basically prepared my mind for a back-of-a-length cut shot through cover."
Unlike much of the hysterical media coverage, Maxwell is quick to credit Duffield - an unheralded state cricketer who ended up losing his Western Australia contract at the end of that summer, before winning it back a year later - for bowling a peach of a delivery. "I would've been out [lbw] with that ball anyway," says Maxwell, "because it swung and then seamed in. But with no batter there, it looks like a normal [straight] ball", rather than the late inswinging jaffa that it was.
The leave proved to be a turning point for Maxwell. He had a refresher training session with his long-time personal batting coach, Richard Clifton. Perhaps, most importantly, he changed his mindset. Instead of worrying about World Cup selection, he focused on the present. He had no shortage of support from his close-knit family, and Stars - especially David Hussey, Kevin Pietersen, and the head coach then, Greg Shipperd. He received phone calls from Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting, who assured him that they were in his corner.
He did what? Maxwell plays a reverse flick during a 2013 BBL game
© Getty Images
He did what? Maxwell plays a reverse flick during a 2013 BBL game © Getty Images
Thirteen days after the leave, on a cool, dry Melbourne summer night, Maxwell compiled a 120-run partnership with Pietersen to lead Stars to victory over Melbourne Renegades in front of 37,323 fans at the MCG. Maxwell, with 66 off 44 balls, was named Man of the Match. Looking back on it now, he believes that that innings "was probably the big changing point leading into the World Cup".
Less than 24 hours later, Australia's World Cup squad was announced. Maxwell's name was in it. His inclusion would prove to be one of the best judgement calls the Australian selectors have made in the past decade. When the squad was announced, Maxwell's ODI record read: 36 matches, 891 runs at an average of 29.70 and a strike rate of 120.40. Those are promising numbers but hardly world-beating.
Here are Maxwell's stats as a finisher, floating between No. 4 and No. 6, in Australia's victorious World Cup: six innings, 324 runs, including a hundred and two half-centuries, at an average of 64.80 and a strike rate of 182.02. If you jumped in a time machine and showed these numbers to an international cricketer in 2011, he probably wouldn't believe it. Almost no one had thought it possible to score that many runs that quickly over the course of a six-week tournament featuring the very best.
And it wasn't just the runs but how he scored them. Batsmen, particularly those of the attacking variety, typically return to the team more circumspect and risk-averse, albeit with a vastly improved capacity to score runs. Steve Waugh is a classic example. To spectators during the World Cup, Maxwell's approach seemed to be, if anything, the opposite of the norm. His batting was more brazen than ever. He reverse-swept the third ball that he faced in the tournament - against the turn of Moeen Ali - for four. He reverse-flicked giant left-arm Afghanistan quick Shapoor Zadran over third man for six. Not even Lasith Malinga yorkers were treated with respect; when Maxwell received a Hellfire missile headed for the base of leg stump, he backed away and drove it over extra cover for four. His batting was remorseless in every sense of the word, showing neither regret for the bowler's fate nor guilt over his previous failures. In the eyes of many, his batting came to represent the apotheosis of the T20 age.
In May 2008, in a small, one-bedroom bungalow in Norfolk, 19-year-old Glenn Maxwell contemplated quitting cricket.
Maxwell had been a talented junior cricketer. He had represented Victoria at age-group levels and was an important part of their Under-19 team that, in 2007, won the national championship unbeaten in Hobart. However, just six months later, when the next round of state contracts was announced, Maxwell - unlike his contemporaries Steven Smith, Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, James Pattinson and Phillip Hughes - was not awarded a contract by his state as a teenager. And fair enough too. He hadn't scored as many runs as his Victoria U-19s team-mates who were awarded rookie contracts - Michael Hill, Kumar Sarna and Brett Forsyth. If Maxwell was to earn a professional contract, he would have to do it the old-fashioned way: scoring runs and taking wickets in grade cricket while working or studying full-time.
Maxwell played shots that Dickson had never seen before. Crikey, thought Dickson, he can score anywhere - he is capable of hitting the ball wherever he wants
In his first full season in first grade, with Fitzroy Doncaster Cricket Club, Maxwell made four ducks and averaged 11.46, and his club finished dead last. By the end of that summer, he had not only missed out on Australia's U-19 World Cup squad - which included Hughes, Smith, Hazlewood, Pattinson and James Faulkner - he had also lost his spot in the Fitzroy Doncaster first team.
As the summer drew to a close, Tim Sheehan, a Fitzroy Doncaster stalwart, offered to set Maxwell up with Saham Toney CC in England. Maxwell, who had never been to Europe, eagerly accepted the offer with one condition (which the club readily agreed to): that Saham Toney find a place in their 2nd XI for his older brother Daniel, a capable club cricketer, so that the two could travel to England together.
Not everyone at Fitzroy Doncaster thought that a season of fourth-tier league cricket in England would be ideal for Maxwell's development. Peter Dickson, an opening batsman who had played 2nd XI cricket for Victoria, thought his friend Maxwell would be better served spending the Australian winter at home, working on his technique.
Maxwell's first few weeks at Saham Toney appeared to validate that opinion. The poor form that had dogged him through the Australian summer followed him all the way to Norfolk.
Maxwell - who grew up 200 paces from his local club - had always played the game because he loved it. Now, for the first time in his life, he wasn't loving it. He felt that he wasn't upholding his responsibilities as an overseas player. One day, in the one-bedroom bungalow - really nothing more than a guest hut in which they had been billeted - he turned to Daniel and confessed: "I don't want to play cricket anymore; I've had enough."
Daniel calmly suggested that he stop treating his stint at Saham Toney as a joyless, professional job. Rather, said Daniel, "just treat it like we're here for a bit of an extended holiday and, as part of that, we're playing a bit of cricket - a game that you've loved since you were three years old. Don't put so much pressure on yourself to score a hundred every time you walk out to bat. Forget about the results. Just relax and enjoy your cricket and this whole experience of living and travelling in a foreign country." It was sound advice, born not only of Daniel's age - he is nine and a half years older than Glenn - but from his perspective as a suburban club cricketer who never had any realistic hope of representing his state or his country.
Along with his extraordinary ball-hitting abilities, Maxwell also brings handy offspin and excellent fielding skills to the table, which is why it was strange that Australia picked Nic Maddinson ahead of him for last year's Adelaide Test against South Africa
© Getty Images
Along with his extraordinary ball-hitting abilities, Maxwell also brings handy offspin and excellent fielding skills to the table, which is why it was strange that Australia picked Nic Maddinson ahead of him for last year's Adelaide Test against South Africa © Getty Images
Glenn heeded the advice - it was, he would gratefully acknowledge years later, the best advice his brother probably ever gave him - and, almost overnight, his form turned around. He started peeling off hundred after hundred - sometimes, he'd score two in a single weekend - and soon broke the Norfolk Cricket Alliance league record for the highest score by a batsman in a 45-over game, smashing a double-hundred against Mundford CC. Like so many Australian cricketers before him, he found that English league cricket gave him one crucial developmental advantage: the opportunity to play two or three full games a week rather than the solitary two-day game (played over two consecutive Saturdays) every fortnight that is the organisational cornerstone of Australian grade cricket.
Maxwell returned to his family's modest, single-storey, brown brick home in the outer southeastern Melbourne suburb of Belgrave South with the belief that he could score runs in first grade. He started the following summer back in the Fitzroy Doncaster first-grade XI with scores of 0, 6, 8 and 17 batting at No. 6 and 7. His brilliant fielding and solid, ever improving offspin kept him in the team. But Maxwell wasn't worried about his lack of runs. He was happy, relaxed and enjoying his cricket, not looking too far into the future.
In the next game, Melbourne University racked up 355 for 7 before declaring late on day one. Dickson, Fitzroy Doncaster's captain and opener, was playing with a debilitating back injury, which meant he couldn't bat immediately after spending a full day in the field. It would be up to a makeshift opener to bat out five or six overs in fading light against a pair of fresh opening bowlers. As the sun set over the picturesque oval nestled in between Melbourne University's 19th-century sandstone residential colleges, Dickson looked around his playing group and asked: "Who can go out and do it?"
No one was willing, except for 20-year-old Maxwell. He went up to Dickson and said, in a tone that was equal parts calm and enthusiastic: "Mate, I can do it. Give me the opportunity." That was good enough for Dickson. It shows character, he remembers thinking.
Maxwell drove the third ball he faced - a juicy length ball right in his slot - straight back over the bowler's head for six. "Even though he took the game on," Dickson recalls, "he just looked like he was never going to get out that night."
Maxwell's parents drive around Australia to watch every single game Glenn plays, even at the WACA, some 3500km from their family home
Maxwell got out for 26 the next morning. When a similar situation arose in their next game, Dickson did not hesitate to send him in as a makeshift opener. He batted just like he had in the previous game - except, this time he didn't get out, smoking 105 off 90 balls against a Frankston Peninsula attack that was rated one of the best in Melbourne's first grade. Maxwell played shots that Dickson had never seen before. Crikey, thought Dickson, he can score anywhere - he is capable of hitting the ball wherever he wants.
Maxwell finished that golden summer of 2008-09 with 669 first-grade runs, including two hundreds and four fifties, at an average of 51.46, and 35 wickets at 27.51. Fitzroy Doncaster finished second on the regular season ladder, but fell to Carlton in an epic semi-final.
In the winter of 2009, Victoria rewarded Maxwell with his first rookie contract. Three years later, he made his ODI debut. "They [Fitzroy Doncaster] were very good to me," says Maxwell. "At the start, they probably stuck with me longer than a lot of teams would have."
Glenn Maxwell has never forgotten it.
Brad Hodge had heard of Maxwell before he joined the Victoria Bushrangers squad in the winter of 2009. Hodge's good friend and Victoria team-mate Lloyd Mash had told him about this talented kid who had "every shot in the book". By this stage, Hodge had been playing Sheffield Shield cricket for nearly 16 years and had represented Australia in all formats. Well, Hodge thought to himself, you hear that sort of hype all the time about young grade cricketers, only for it to turn out to be just that: hype.
When he finally got the chance to watch Maxwell bat, Hodge saw that he was the real deal. His "ability to hit the ball around the ground 360 with power is intense," thought Hodge. Even when he tried to caress the ball, he did it so violently. His bat swing was almost like a baseball swing. And Hodge would know, being a member of the last generation of Australian cricketers who spent the winters of their youth playing baseball.
The 34-year-old Hodge took the 20-year-old Maxwell under his wing. "We clicked immediately," says Hodge, who describes Maxwell as "an extremely likeable character". They formed, along with Victoria team-mates Aaron Finch and Andrew McDonald, a tight unit, with a common passion for golf.
From the moment that Hodge met him, Maxwell spoke openly about how big he wanted to hit the ball. It had ever been thus. That was the first thing that Richard Clifton, Maxwell's personal batting coach, noticed upon encountering the 11-year-old Maxwell. "He wasn't afraid to hit the ball hard," says Clifton. "A lot of kids are." In March 2006, Maxwell hit six sixes in an over for his beloved South Belgrave Cricket Club in an under-17 semi-final. Opening the batting, he had passed 50 when Cameron Ralston, a medium-pacer, came on to bowl. Maxwell nailed the first three balls over long-on and deep square-leg. At which point he thought to himself: "Aw, bugger it, I'm just going to go for it, see if I can hit six in a row here."
The bowler's-end view of the Maxwell family backyard
© SB Tang
The bowler's-end view of the Maxwell family backyard © SB Tang
When Maxwell dispatched the final ball into orbit, South Belgrave's senior 1st and 2nd XI players - who were, in true suburban club fashion, positioned on a hill overlooking the ground, went nuts. He didn't realise it at the time, but his sixth six of the over had taken him to 100, and the feat earned Maxwell his very first mention in Melbourne's Age.
More than a decade on, one thing about that article in the Age still irks Maxwell - its misidentification of the man who has been the biggest influence on his cricket and his life: his dad, Neil Maxwell. The article described Glenn Maxwell as the "son of former top player Neil Maxwell", referring to the Sydney-raised allrounder who played Shield cricket for Victoria and New South Wales in the '90s. That Neil Maxwell isn't Glenn's dad. Glenn's dad is an affable bloke from Cornwall who came out to Australia as a "£10 Pom" on the Fairstar in the mid-'60s; the highest level of cricket that he reached as a cunning medium-pacer (and career No. 11) was non-district club cricket in the outer southeastern suburbs of Melbourne. This Neil Maxwell spent countless hours bowling to his youngest son after school, and these days drives around Australia with his wife Joy to watch every single game Glenn plays, even at the WACA, some 3500km from their family home in Belgrave South.
Neil was an IT manager for Reg Hunt Motors, a car dealership. Joy worked in the warehouse and returns section of Random House, the publishers. Growing up in Cornwall, Neil's main sporting love was golf. He played a lot with his dad, who was the local club champion and competed in the local championships. When Neil's two sons were bitten by the cricket bug, he got involved in club cricket in their suburb and obtained his level-one coaching certificate.
The teenage Maxwell worked diligently to expand his repertoire of strokes. He asked his then sponsor, Newbery, for a left-hander's thigh pad and batting gloves, and when the equipment arrived, he started practising batting left-handed. And thus the switch hit - which Maxwell would later use to smash the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Sunil Narine over cover for six - was born. Maxwell's experimentation even extended to his second-favourite sport: golf. He can swing a club fluently with both hands - a trait he shares with Australia's first Masters champion Adam Scott.
In 2006, Maxwell was awarded a scholarship to the Victorian Institute of Sport's cricket programme, where he was coached by Neil Buszard, a Melbourne grade-cricket legend and fielding guru, who represented Victoria and Australia in baseball. There, Maxwell practised the reverse sweep and the ramp as diligently as Forsyth, his friend and a dour opening batsman, practised the forward defensive. The two would often catch the train to the MCG for optional winter training sessions. "I remember," says Forsyth with a fond smile, "feeding balls to him and… he was practising a back-foot, inside edge down to fine leg for four!" Maxwell spent an entire winter practising that back-foot French drive - to get boundaries against perfectly respectable deliveries. And he wasn't taking the piss - he took great care to ensure that he was getting into the correct position: back and across, just like for any conventional back-foot shot.
The Maxwell backyard was built on a gentle slope and there was a small crater where "if you could pitch it right, you could get one to cut back in or keep low or even kick up a bit at the batsman's face"
Nowadays Maxwell is often described by team-mates and opponents as a "free spirit", typically after he has blasted a match-winning half-century at a strike rate over 200. "I don't think he is worried about his game; he's more worried about golf and practises more golf than cricket," Virender Sehwag told iplt20.com in 2014, when the two were team-mates at Kings XI Punjab. "He just goes out there in the middle, gives his 100% out there and comes back happily with whatever he gets."
There is a good amount of truth in these comments, but they are also misleading insofar as they imply that Maxwell does not analyse the game or work particularly hard.
As a teenager Maxwell trained five nights a week - junior club training, senior club training, regional and/or state representative training, one-on-one sessions in the nets with his dad, and one-on-one sessions with Clifton - and squeezed in as many games as he could on weekends. Before he progressed to playing grade cricket for Richmond when he was 16, Maxwell would play at least two games per Saturday for his local club, South Belgrave: a junior game in the morning and a senior game in the afternoon. Even after moving to Richmond, he would still play the first 90 minutes of the morning session for South Belgrave's under-17s - their games started at 8:30am - before dashing off in time for 11am warm-ups for Richmond.
All of Maxwell's one-on-one sessions with his dad and Clifton were videotaped. Maxwell would study the footage to dissect his technique and identify areas for improvement. Such behaviour is standard practice for adult professional cricketers, but Maxwell was doing this at 11. He didn't see it as work; he enjoyed it. As a 13-year-old waiting in the nets at Topline Cricket in Bayswater North for his one-on-one training session with Clifton to begin, he would pass the time by studying the techniques of the kids batting before him.
In substance, Maxwell has always been nothing more and nothing less than the archetypal Australian cricketer. He grew up in an ordinary outer-suburban home with a dad and an ultra-competitive older brother who were always happy to bowl to him in the backyard or local park. The Maxwell backyard, like all Australian backyards, had its quirks and imperfections, which made things more challenging for batsmen. It was built on a gentle slope and there was a small crater. "If you could pitch it right," recalls Daniel with the merciless laugh of a big brother, "you could get one to cut back in or keep low or even kick up a bit at [the batsman's] face." In that environment, Glenn learnt by doing. His development was accelerated by playing with and against men at a young age.
While many of Maxwell's shots may perplex onlookers, the batsman insists there's method behind his madness
© Getty Images
While many of Maxwell's shots may perplex onlookers, the batsman insists there's method behind his madness © Getty Images
The young Maxwell watched plenty of international cricket on TV and saw how run rates in both Tests and ODIs were rising. Unorthodox shots could, he reasoned, enable batsmen to hit the ball into gaps and thereby score at the ever-increasing required rates.
In the mid-2000s, however, those shots - such as the reverse sweep, switch hit and ramp - were still taboo, observes Sean Sturrock, the left-arm wristspinner in Maxwell's national championship-winning Victoria U-19 team. There was a certain stigma attached to batsmen who played them, especially if they got out doing so. Most young Australians knew of the infamy that had befallen Mark Waugh when he was bowled for 15 attempting to reverse-sweep Phil Tufnell in an Ashes Test in 1994. And many had seen Darren Lehmann's international career all but terminated in 2005, when he nicked off first ball, attempting to reverse-sweep Shahid Afridi in Melbourne. Ricky Ponting's response, as revealed in Lehmann's autobiography Coach - "What on earth were you thinking?" - sums up how that shot was viewed in Australia in the mid-2000s.
The teenage Maxwell flourished under Clifton - a batting coach whose philosophy is reflected in his two favourite maxims: "You're your own best coach" and "I could be wrong." But even Clifton baulked when Maxwell excitedly showed him a new shot he had been developing: a reverse-slap for six over third man.
"That's a silly shot, mate," counselled Clifton, "it'll get you out."
Maxwell flashed a cheeky grin and replied, in a tone both polite and nonchalant, "Nah, I'll get runs with it."
Maxwell knows how bad his unorthodox shots make him look. He knows what people say when he gets out playing them. But it doesn't faze him. "You're not there just to play nice [conventional] shots and look good [in ODIs and T20s]," he says. "You've got to be able to score runs." And to do that rapidly at the death, you have to "be able to hit the same ball into different areas, because you're not going to come up against the same field every time. Teams are going to have different tactics against you every time."
In the eyes of many, his batting came to represent the apotheosis of the T20 age
Still, how is he able to hit the same ball into so many different areas of the field?
"I get results through either my hands or my wristwork," he explains in the same objective tone that a physicist would use in a laboratory. "Let's say, a half-volley outside off, I know I can hit that [from] backward square leg all the way through to behind third man."
In a 50-over game between Victoria and NSW at North Sydney Oval last October, Maxwell was cruising on 55 off 34 balls when he tried to reverse-sweep a fullish straight ball from Trent Copeland - an accurate former Test medium-pacer - and missed. The ball hit his front pad. He survived the lbw appeal thanks to an under-edge but the Channel Nine commentators, Tom Moody and Darren Berry, were left scratching their heads. Why play a funky reverse sweep when you were driving the ball so effortlessly to the boundary?
"Me playing that shot tightened up that field a bit," explains Maxwell, meaning that Copeland and NSW's captain, Moises Henriques, had to have men patrolling the off-side square boundary. That left a giant gaping hole at cover. "Then," explains Maxwell, "I hit the cover drive for four."
In the next over, NSW responded by moving a man to deep straightish extra cover. Now, the field confronting Maxwell was this: a straightish midwicket, long-on, a straightish long-off, a straightish cover, a straightish deep extra-cover, backward point and short third man. Maxwell fully expected another full, straightish ball. But, he knew that it would be practically impossible to drive such a ball to the boundary. He decided that the optimal shot to score a boundary was a reverse sweep. The "[short] third man was too square," he explains, so, if it was a fullish ball, "all I had to do was get it past the keeper, and I had four." He adds, with a chuckle: "And that boundary is 11 metres!" If Copeland dropped a fraction short, then Maxwell was going to reverse-sweep him "for six over backward point [which is also a short boundary]". Either way, Maxwell committed to the reverse sweep before Copeland had delivered the ball.
Maxwell's local club ground in Belgrave South, Melbourne
© SB Tang
Maxwell's local club ground in Belgrave South, Melbourne © SB Tang
As it turned out, Copeland bowled the exact ball that Maxwell had expected: a fullish ball on middle and off. Maxwell attempted to reverse-sweep it fine, missed and was plumb lbw for 67 off 41 balls when he seemingly had the game at his mercy. Up in the commentary box, Moody - who is generally an admirer of Maxwell's unorthodox strokeplay - questioned the shot selection when there were two men behind square on the off side.
Maxwell is the first to admit that it was a mistake. But he firmly believes it to be an error of technical execution rather than shot selection. "I was through the shot too quickly", he explains. "I actually tried to hit it instead of guiding it [past short third man like I should have]." There is not a trace of defensiveness or cockiness in his voice.
I had planned to ask Maxwell about the fascinating passage of play in Australia's opening game of their 2016 World T20 campaign, when he batted left-handed to the left-arm orthodox spinner Mitchell Santner, but Maxwell brings it up himself:
"The ball was spinning a metre. It was spinning so sharply that you could not possibly hit it right-handed straight down the ground, which is generally my strength. So I went, 'Well, I'm going to stuff up his length here.' So I hit a two, left-handed through midwicket, and then I got a one [batting left-handed], and then I did it again and he bowled a full toss. And I thought, 'There's no way he would've bowled a full toss if I'd have stayed right-handed.' I stuffed it up. I should've hit the full toss for six, but I just bunged it for one. But the thing is, by getting the guy to bowl a full toss on a spinning deck, I thought, 'I've done really well there.'
"I just felt I couldn't get out [batting left-hand to Santner with the ball spinning in]. Like, if it spun, I could actually play it… If I try right-handed, you're opening up the face and just bringing in nicks. That's all you're doing."
Despite some embarrassing dismissals, like the notorious leave against Duffield, Maxwell cheerfully admits that "most" of his shot selection in white-ball games is still premeditated. "I feel like I have a half-reasonable idea where the bowler's going to try and bowl it, and I have a half-reasonable idea where I'm going to try and hit it."
There is a reason why Maxwell premeditates: in the phases of the game when he typically bats - between overs 35 and 50 of an ODI, and after the seventh over of a T20 - there are four or five men out protecting the boundary. The only way that he can score at the mind-boggling rates his team needs him to score at is to premediate and hit the ball where the boundary riders aren't.
Of course there will be times when this approach makes him look downright silly. In the 2015 World Cup quarter-final against Pakistan at the Adelaide Oval, Maxwell confronted a fired-up Wahab Riaz bowling consistently near 150kph. He was still new to the crease - five off seven balls - when he faced his first ball from Wahab. He advanced a step and a half down the pitch and away towards leg. Wahab, bowling over the wicket, followed him with a lightning bolt that was short and pitched about a stump wide of leg stump. Maxwell swung his bat vertically above his shoulder and swatted downwards - like millions of his countrymen swat flies every summer - before stumbling over onto his right foot. The ball skimmed off his blade up into the night sky. The fine-ish third man, Sohail Khan, charged in and got his fingertips to the ball, but dropped it as he stumbled over. "The off-side [field] was up," Maxwell explains. "I wanted to get it over the off side."
A few overs later, having just whipped Wahab through midwicket for four, Maxwell backed away to leg. Wahab followed him again, with a ferocious short ball that appeared to be on its way to his head. Maxwell squatted and swayed away from the ball, tucked his arms in, turned his head away from the incoming ball, shut his eyes and unleashed a shot that he later jokingly described on Twitter as "the back away, look away, deliberate cut through point", before graciously adding: "Well bowled Wahab! Had me." As ever, there was an assiduously rational method to Maxwell's madness. "I wanted to open up the off side," he explains, "they had the off side up as far as point and I've hit that shot a few times. It may not look [in control]… but it feels in control when I'm playing it."
If you look at the slow-motion replay, he explains, "you can sort of see me bring the bat back into my hands [then] come through here." He moves his two empty hands - clenched, holding an imaginary bat - away from his body like a batsman executing a textbook cut shot.
Victoria's captain, Matthew Wade (right), decided to bat Maxwell down the order and Victoria blocked Maxwell's move to NSW
© Getty Images
Victoria's captain, Matthew Wade (right), decided to bat Maxwell down the order and Victoria blocked Maxwell's move to NSW © Getty Images
Two overs later, with Australia requiring nine, Maxwell received a wide delivery landing just short of yorker length from the right-arm quick Sohail. He backed away, knelt down on his back knee and bottom-hand-slapped the ball over cover point for a flat six. A home crowd would ordinarily cheer the sight of a six. Instead, there was a distinct silence as the ball pinged off Maxwell's blade: the crowd gasped, as if unable to comprehend what they were seeing. It was only as the ball sailed into the eastern stand that the 35,516 strong crowd began to regain its composure and applaud.
Maxwell remembers that shot well. "My hands are pretty quick", he says without affectation. "I think that's probably the thing that helps me a lot - that I can whip under the ball really quickly, and with a wicket like Adelaide, where it's nice and skiddy and you can trust the bounce, I was able to just get that bottom hand through underneath [the ball]."
Bowlers and spectators find Maxwell to be unpredictable. Maxwell himself is surprised by this. "To tell you the truth, I think the way I bat is very obvious. I don't think people should be [going], 'Oh, why's he playing that shot?' I think they should be going: 'Oh, everyone knows why he's playing that shot. Because the field's up on the off side. He thought it was going to be short, it was full, so he tried to hit a cover drive.' To me, that's not a rash shot, that's an obvious shot."
What frustrates Maxwell is that the vast majority of people who have watched him play limited-overs cricket blithely assume that he bats the same way against the red ball and is, therefore, not a Test player.
He says that his approach to red-ball batting is "completely the opposite" - "I try and stay as still as possible and just play the ball on its merits." That's one reason why he averages 40-plus in first-class cricket for every team - Australia A, Hampshire, Yorkshire and Victoria - that he has played for. His Sheffield Shield average is 42.36. That figure is even more impressive when one considers the fact that he bats between No. 5 and No. 7 for a dominant Victoria team. He has often sacrificed his wicket in search of quick runs to set up a declaration and is frequently sent in at No. 3 to slog a few before the second-innings declaration. Unfortunately for Maxwell, Shield cricket isn't televised, crowds number between two and three figures, and the media coverage is limited.
The media coverage certainly wasn't limited when, a few weeks ago, with the India-Australia series locked at 1-1, Maxwell returned to Test cricket after a two-year absence. On the first afternoon in Ranchi, he played straight, left well, dispatched loose balls, worked the ones and twos, and got himself off strike after hitting boundaries. In his very first innings as a Test No. 6, Maxwell showed what Australia had been sorely lacking ever since Smith left the position two and a half years ago. The day after completing his maiden Test century, Maxwell sprinted 60 yards from midwicket and executed a sliding dive to haul in a Cheteshwar Pujara leg glance and thereby put Virat Kohli on strike. The next ball, Pat Cummins nicked Kohli off for 6.
In the 12 months after the World Cup, Maxwell's career continued its steady, seemingly inexorable ascent. Australia won three bilateral ODI series and Maxwell established himself as the team's most consistent all-round contributor. His own team-mates voted him Australian ODI Player of the Year in late January 2016.
Maxwell knows how bad his unorthodox shots make him look. He knows what people say when he gets out playing them
Maxwell's Shield form was even better. In six matches in the summer of 2015-16, he scored 392 runs in nine innings - predominantly at No. 5 and 6 - with four fifties. His season average of 56 placed him well ahead of his team-mates, none of whom averaged more than 45. In late January 2016, Andrew Ramsey, the senior writer for cricket.com.au, observed: "At his current rate of evolution, it would be unwise to dismiss the 27-year-old's chances of being honoured as Test Player of the Year when the Border Medal votes are tallied a year hence." Maxwell himself felt ready to take his game to the next level in all three formats. But the ensuing 12 months would turn out to be the most tumultuous of his professional career.
It all started with Australia's tour of New Zealand in February last year. Maxwell went 0, 6, 0 and Australia lost a tight series 2-1. It was their first ODI series loss in 17 months and Maxwell's first below-par ODI series in well over a year. When a tweeter misstated his series average, Maxwell retained his sense of humour, replying: "You are a jerk!!! I averaged 2." To a fan who tweeted, "everyone is trolling you, i dont [sic] like it", Maxwell replied: "It happens when you have a sh#t series. Hopefully I don't deal with it too often.... "
Having not been picked for the subsequent Test leg in New Zealand, Maxwell returned to Melbourne in the second week of February. He scored twin half-centuries for Victoria in a tough win over South Australia, and was then scheduled to have a 12-day break before joining the Australian T20 team in South Africa. This will be great, he thought to himself as he mentally wound down. Go see the family, play some golf, relax and recharge the batteries.
Then he got a call from Australia's high-performance manager, Pat Howard, telling him to get ready to fly out to New Zealand. "What's going on? Is someone injured?" asked Maxwell. "Ah, well, we're not so sure," Howard is said to have replied, "but get ready."
Maxwell was asked to join the Australian Test squad in New Zealand in 2016 as a specialist fielder, a decision he chose to view optimistically, hoping it would result in a Test call-up
© Getty Images
Maxwell was asked to join the Australian Test squad in New Zealand in 2016 as a specialist fielder, a decision he chose to view optimistically, hoping it would result in a Test call-up © Getty Images
Maxwell waited with his bags packed. Geez, I might be playing a Test here, he thought to himself excitedly. He waited. And waited. There was still no call from Cricket Australia. Meanwhile, over in Christchurch, Steven Smith chose to field in the second Test. Finally, midway through the match, Maxwell received another call from Howard. Shaun Marsh has to go back and play a Shield game in Perth, explained Howard, so you are coming over to New Zealand to field. So Maxwell joined the team as a specialist fielder. He chose to see the silver lining in his trip to the land of the long white cloud. Maybe, he thought to himself, I'm in line for a Test call-up soon.
Meanwhile, Maxwell's limited-overs form wasn't about to let up. He single-handedly turned a three match T20I series in South Africa, and was consistent in the World T20 in India, in a largely disappointing campaign for his team.
Maxwell's next ODI assignment was a tri-series in the West Indies in June. He started with a duck (bowled by a Sunil Narine offbreak that Lehmann reportedly described as "a cracker") and a 3 (incorrectly adjudged lbw) before he was dropped for the next two ODIs. This came as something of a surprise; after all, a few days earlier Steven Smith had backed him in a column. He was recalled for Australia's penultimate group-stage game against South Africa only for it to be washed out. Now Australia had to beat West Indies in Barbados to go through to the final. Maxwell walked in at 221 for 4, with the team requiring 62 off 50 balls and smashed a 26-ball 46 - he switch-hit a Narine carrom ball over cover for six, the first boundary that Narine conceded all day - to steer them into the final. Australia went on to win it by 58 runs.
At that point Maxwell's last seven ODI scores read: 0, 6, 0, 0, 3, 46 not out and 4. That is undeniably a slump. Still, the notion of dropping him seemed far-fetched. In the last five ODI innings before his slump, Maxwell had only failed once, averaging 63.50 at a strike rate of 128.28. He had already experienced one major selection disappointment in 2016. He had been overlooked for Australia's Test tour of Sri Lanka. In late July he received worse news: he had been axed from the ODI squad for the first time since his debut. Australia's then chairman of selectors, Rod Marsh, said Maxwell "is averaging less than ten runs in Australia's last ten one-day internationals so the numbers speak for themselves".
Victoria's dropping of Maxwell was a big deal. To complicate matters further, some Victorians felt confused and betrayed by Maxwell's attempt to transfer to NSW
The problem with that statement is that it wasn't true. In his last ten ODI innings to that point, Maxwell had averaged 27.75 at a strike rate of 121.97. And that list included two match-winning knocks.
In early September, Maxwell joined the Australian team in Sri Lanka for a two-match T20 series. Given the opportunity to open the batting, he scored a space-time-continuum-bending 145 not out off 65 balls and followed up with 66 off 29 in the next game. Australia won the series 2-0 and Maxwell took home both Man-of-the-Match awards and the Man-of-the-Series award.
Glenn Maxwell was back. Or so it seemed.
In mid-September, ESPNcricinfo broke the news that Maxwell had sought a last-minute move to New South Wales, which had been blocked by Victoria. The reaction in Victoria was summed up in a tweet by a popular Melbourne radio station: "Glenn Maxwell tries to dog Victoria, gets shut down." The verb "dog" here is Australian slang for "screw over", frequently deployed in the context where the victim (erroneously) believes the wrongdoer to be a mate. One comment on cricket.com.au's Facebook page read: "You're dead to me Maxi hope you never get another game for Aus."
The genesis of Maxwell's move was a courteous professional conversation with Victoria captain Matthew Wade earlier that winter. (Cricket Victoria, acting on behalf of Wade, declined to comment for this article. The following account is based entirely on Maxwell's recollection.) Wade informed Maxwell that he would be batting No. 5 to 7 for Victoria in the Shield and No. 5 or 6 in the one-day Matador Cup. Maxwell replied that he wanted the responsibility of batting higher. Wade said his mind was made up.
Shortly thereafter, when Maxwell joined the T20 team in Sri Lanka, he confided in his friend and Australia team-mate, Moises Henriques, who happens to be the captain of New South Wales. Henriques' response was swift: If you come to NSW, you'll bat at No. 3 in the Matador and No. 4 in the Shield. How does that sound?
Maxwell talks to his parents, Neil and Joy, during a Shield game in Melbourne, 2015
© Getty Images
Maxwell talks to his parents, Neil and Joy, during a Shield game in Melbourne, 2015 © Getty Images
Maxwell replied that that sounded good. "But," he said, "let me have a chat to Cricket Australia, Cricket Victoria, my family and my manager before I make a final decision." When Maxwell broached the idea with CA, he says that their response was an unequivocal yes. Maxwell's family was also supportive of the move and his manager, following protocol, teed up the relevant meetings with Cricket NSW.
Maxwell then rang the three key people at Cricket Victoria: Tony Dodemaide, the CEO; Shaun Graf, the General Manager of Cricket; and Wade, the captain. "Batting position's a big thing," he told them, "but pleasing Cricket Australia is my number one… They're obviously not happy with me just being comfortable and batting six and seven for Victoria. This is a decision based purely on my cricket needs and what Cricket Australia wants from me."
It wasn't an easy decision for Maxwell. This, after all, is the most passionate of born-and-bred Victorians. His close-knit family still lives in the same outer-southeastern suburban area of Melbourne where he grew up. He played all his underage cricket for Victoria. When he wasn't awarded a Victoria rookie deal at 18, he never contemplated moving interstate. He fought for and earned his first rookie deal via grade cricket, because he wanted to play for Victoria, and every week he checks the Melbourne grade cricket scores, to keep tabs on up-and-coming young players. During the 2016 World T20 in India, he watched (and tweeted about) Victoria's epic drawn match against NSW and Fitzroy Doncaster's first-grade grand final against Ringwood. He Facetimed and Snapchatted with his Fitzroy Doncaster team-mates as they prepared for the big game.
When Maxwell interviews his good friend Virat Kohli on his long-running cricket.com.au video blog he makes a point of asking him the eternal question - "Melbourne or Sydney?" - and expresses tongue-in-cheek disappointment when Kohli answers Sydney. The Victorian cricket team, says Maxwell with pride, is "an amazing place to be involved with… we just don't lose, we go out there and we expect to win. It's just so unwavering. It's a good place to be. That's why it would have been hard to leave."
Cricket Victoria was disappointed with Maxwell's decision but accepted it. But soon they discovered that, under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding between CA and the Australian Cricketers' Association, they could legally block Maxwell's move to NSW, and duly exercised that power.
"I think the way I bat is very obvious. I don't think people should be going, 'Oh, why's he playing that shot?' I think they should be going: 'Oh, everyone knows why he's playing that shot"
"I just fell flat on my face there", says Maxwell. "We [Maxwell, his manager and CA] didn't realise that Cricket Victoria had that right."
Maxwell proceeded to have a mediocre Matador Cup campaign and Victoria didn't make the final. Still, he felt he was striking the ball cleanly - a good sign for the start of the Shield in October.
October 24, 2016 was the strangest day of the strangest year of Maxwell's life.
It began innocuously enough, with Victoria training at the MCG for their opening Shield game. Once training finished, a team-mate casually approached Maxwell and said: "Oh, Ronnie wants to have a chat with ya before you leave."
"No worries", replied Maxwell, thinking that his old friend Andrew McDonald - nicknamed Ronnie because of his red hair and resemblance to Ronald McDonald - wanted to talk about batting position or team strategy.
Maxwell exited the dressing room and entered another windowless, fluorescent-lit room deep in the bowels of the MCG. There, waiting for him, were his captain, Wade, his newly appointed coach, McDonald, and Victoria's chairman of selectors, Andrew Lynch. They told Maxwell he wouldn't be playing in that fixture; he was going to be named 12th man.
Maxwell was shocked by the decision - he had, after all, topped Victoria's Shield batting averages the previous summer - but he copped it on the chin. The next day he performed his 12th-man duties without fuss. He threw balls to batsmen. He made the drinks. He regularly asked his team-mates whether they needed anything.
Meanwhile a firestorm raged in the national media. McDonald's public explanation for the decision - "It's just a matter of [team] balance" - held little water with Australia selector Mark Waugh and former Australia captain Allan Border, both of whom strongly criticised the decision. Pat Howard told the Melbourne sports radio station SEN that if Maxwell's exclusion from Victoria's Shield XI became "a permanent issue, we'd obviously start looking at trying to get him playing at the next level".
Victoria's dropping of Maxwell was a big deal. To complicate matters further, some Victorians felt confused and betrayed by Maxwell's attempt to transfer to NSW. Largely because Maxwell wasn't just any Victorian cricketer - he is, arguably, the best all-round talent that the state has produced in the past quarter-century.
After all the recent upheavals, Maxwell made his Test return after two years count by scoring his debut century in the format in Ranchi
© Associated Press
After all the recent upheavals, Maxwell made his Test return after two years count by scoring his debut century in the format in Ranchi © Associated Press
Maxwell was restored to Victoria's Shield XI for their second game of the season, against Queensland at the MCG, and scored a poised 81 after walking out to bat late on day two at 146 for 4 after Victoria had lost two quick wickets. The next round of Shield games, taking place in the immediate wake of Australia's humiliating collapses versus South Africa, was effectively a Test audition for every batsman in the country. Victoria took on a full-strength NSW at the SCG. Maxwell, batting at No. 6, missed out in the first innings and was sent up at No. 3 to slog a few before Victoria's early declaration in the second.
The Australian selectors made three changes to the top six for the third Test, in Adelaide. One of them, Nic Maddison as a No. 6, was somewhat curious. "He is definitely a game-breaker," said chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns. Maddinson, a 24-year-old from NSW, was averaging 37.71 in first-class cricket, bowled part-time, and wasn't seen as an exceptional fielder. More than a few observers thought that if Australia were after a game-breaking Test No. 6, the job should have been awarded to Maxwell on the basis of his superior batting and bowling records and outstanding fielding.
Having missed out on Test selection, Maxwell turned out for one more Shield game before joining the ODI squad for a home series against New Zealand. As the newly recalled player, he was dispatched to a pre-series press conference, and it was there that his life took another turn for the surreal.
Maxwell, as is his wont, answered the questions asked of him honestly. The next day, he awoke to headlines such as "Maxwell miffed by Wade call: Decision to bat higher hurts", "Batting too low", "Maxy's lament: I'm out of order". The articles contained quotes from Maxwell where he said it was "probably a little bit painful at times" to be batting below Wade in the Shield.
Maxwell was publicly fined by the Australian leadership group consisting of captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner, Starc and Hazlewood. Smith explained, in a column on cricket.com.au, that Maxwell had been "very disrespectful" of Wade. And the Australia coach, Lehmann, publicly rubbished Maxwell's Test aspirations, saying that he was never in contention for the Adelaide Test "because he hasn't made a [first-class] hundred for the last two years". He neglected to mention that Maxwell's limited-overs duties for Australia had severely restricted his Shield appearances, and that in Maxwell's last nine Shield matches he had scored five half-centuries, including a 98, and averaged a healthy 43.42 batting mainly at Nos. 5 and 6.
Speak to those who know him best, those who have played with and against him since he was a boy, and you'll hear one phrase more than any other: he hasn't changed at all
As Gideon Haigh pointed out in the Australian, once one examined the full transcript of the relevant portion of Maxwell's press conference, his supposedly disrespectful words were harmless, being nothing more than "a straight answer to a straight question" from a reporter, namely: "Have you felt it's hurt you that you haven't been batting very far up the order for Victoria when they're at full strength?"
Maxwell was the only member of Australia's 13-man squad not to get a game in the three-match series against New Zealand. Once he was overlooked for the final game, he completed his duties as a substitute fielder and then messaged Dickson at around 1am to confirm he was available to play for Fitzroy Doncaster the next day. By the time Maxwell got home and got to bed, it was around 3am.
It's a minimum of an hour's drive from Maxwell's home in Melbourne's inner north-west to Walter Galt Reserve in the outer southern bayside suburb of Parkdale - the venue for Fitzroy Doncaster's game against Kingston Hawthorn. Maxwell arrived in time for warm-ups at 10am. He scored 72 and 79 and took 4 for 48 in the second innings to help secure the maximum ten points for an outright win.
Speak to those who know him best, those who have played with and against him since he was a boy, and you'll hear one phrase more than any other: he hasn't changed at all, referring both to Maxwell's character and the way he plays the game.
Michael Hill was one of the best age-group batsmen of Maxwell's generation. He captained Maxwell's 2007 national championship-winning Victorian U-19 team, went on to captain the star-studded Australian U-19 World Cup side in 2008, and spent nearly five years alongside Maxwell in the Victorian squad. As they were coming up through the ranks, Maxwell always looked up to Hill. Now the roles are reversed and it is Hill, speaking with the worldly wisdom of a once junior phenom yet to quite make it at first-class level, who admires his former team-mate.
"The great thing about Glenn is that he hasn't changed the way he plays for anybody," says Hill. "He probably more so than anyone has understood his game from such a young age. There's been lots of critics saying he needs to tighten up his technique, he needs to stop playing these reverse sweeps. Bullshit. He just plays the way he's [always] played… he knows how to play that way and has been mighty successful doing it."
Maxwell trusts the peculiar methods that have got him this far. Some see this as stubbornness; Hill sees it for what it is: self-belief. In this Maxwell is no different from Australia's first genuinely great batsman, Victor Trumper. Even as a boy Trumper listened politely to sensible advice (for example: "Leave it alone, Vic; that wasn't a ball to go at") from his coach Charles Bannerman, then went "his own sweet way", as Monty Noble put it.
Trumper's way is the Maxwell way. "Some of the descriptions that I've heard of Trumper remind me of Glenn Maxwell," said Haigh recently on the Grade Cricketer podcast, and he would know - his critically acclaimed Stroke of Genius, released last year, is a study of Trumper. "This capacity that it was said that Trumper had for hitting an identical ball to six different places on the field," says Haigh, "when I think of that, I think of Glenn Maxwell. I actually feel a strange wave of affection coming over me when I imagine the parallels… I get as much pleasure from watching Glenn Maxwell as I do from any contemporary international cricketer, because I don't really know what's going to happen next. Maybe Glenn doesn't either!"
SB Tang is an Australian writer. His first book, about Australian cricket in the '90s, will be published in December 2017. @sb_tang
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