By Adam Collins
The most capable player of his generation? A waste? A player reformed? A joke? A potential champion of every format? If seeking for a pundit to share your take on Glenn Maxwell, you don’t have to look far. The kaleidoscope of opinions that the Victorian inspires is without precedent in the modern game.
When the book is written on his career one day, and there will be one, his omission from Australia’s one-day squad for the upcoming series against England will surely form a chapter. It marks the latest bizarre instalment in his journey since debuting in 2012, coming at the time he is the leading run-scorer in domestic cricket after 278 for Victoria in a Sheffield Shield game in November. All within eight months of his quite magnificent maiden Test century.
It is important to note from the get-go that Maxwell isn’t currently in the Australian ODI side, having lost his spot during the October tour of India. ‘The Big Show’ was initially dropped a year before in the West Indies, then also missed out in Sri Lanka. But there is a big difference between being dropped mid-tour and missing out on the squad altogether. For Maxwell, it is the first January he hasn’t been called on for 50-over service since making his bow. This time it is different.
The explanation given for his dumping reinforces that he is far from the most popular man in the Australian ranks. For all of Steve Smith’s candour as captain, he isn’t the type to throw a player under the bus when they are given the chop. But he didn’t go far from that when explaining the decision when talking to the media.
“Training habits,” the captain said bluntly. “Just looking at the way he trains I think he could train a little bit smarter,” Smith continued. “We’ve all seen the way Glenn can come out and play and do all his funky stuff and be pretty cool with that, but when he puts his head down he’s actually a really good batsman.” Praise seldom comes fainter than that.
To cite form is one thing. Professionalism – which “training” surely reads as a synonym for – is another. “It was a very pointed comment,” Simon Katich said on radio when discussing the observation, noting that in the same situation he would be jumping on the phone for an immediate clarification. “There is no doubt there is meaning to those comments. Steve Smith wouldn’t be throwing those comments around willy-nilly and that’s why he said it.”
Smith again: “If he keeps his head switched on and trains really well and focuses on basic things more so than the expansive things, then I think that’ll help him have his consistency and if he’s having those consistent performances he’s certainly a person you want.” The key word in that final quote: expansive. Everything about Maxwell is expansive. If that rubs Smith the wrong way, it stands to reason that he’ll never want him.
It is with his tongue that Maxwell is as capacious as he is with his bat, of course. Last year, Smith and his leadership group decided to issue a fine to Maxwell in response to comments he made at a press conference about his state skipper, Matthew Wade. “What Glenn said was very disrespectful,” Smith stated at the time, adding that he was “a little bit shocked” at what he had heard come from his mouth.
Sounds serious. But what were those heinous words? Well, in response to a direct question, Maxwell said that it was “a bit painful” to bat below Wade, the wicketkeeper, in the Victorian side. That as a specialist batsman, he felt that batting ahead of him was only right. Especially when there was a Test spot or three available after the Hobart debacle where Australia had been rolled for 85 by South Africa.
Quelle horreur! For it, he was humiliated. Jump to last week, the man who has the fastest Australian ODI century to his name decided to speak his mind again. Talking to ABC radio, he was bold enough to share his enduring baggy green ambition. The cheeky sod. Won’t he learn?
Looking at the numbers, chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns (and Smith too) argued that he was being left out for his lack of recent consistency. “In his past 20 matches in this format he has averaged 22 and we need more than that from a player in the side’s batting engine room.”
But isn’t selection about more than totting up spreadsheet columns? That was certainly the narrative when Hohns and co picked their extremely successful Ashes squad. Tim Paine didn’t justify his inclusion based on his numbers. Nor did Mitch Marsh. Over many years, neither had his brother Shaun.
So where does it leave Maxwell? Hohns says he is “absolutely” in their thoughts, but in the next breath added that they are looking ahead to their World Cup campaign (in just 17 months’ time) with what they do now. “We are seeking to get a squad in place that can form the basis of the line-up for that,” he said. It seems inconceivable Maxwell wouldn’t be central to helping defend the trophy he was so integral to securing in 2015. But here we are.
A prophet isn’t welcome in their hometown, so goes the Biblical quote. Maxwell is very welcome elsewhere, not least the lucrative T20 circuit where he leads the IPL’s Kings XI Punjab. Of course, there is no chance he will leave the international scene in favour of those riches alone. He’s too desperate for success in the top flight for that. But could anyone blame him if he did? Alternatively, maybe he could just be quiet and bat the way normal people do. Not likely.