Australia v India Tests
At last, Maxwell unwraps his cursed gift
With a Test ton on his CV and a fair few less critics on his back, Glenn Maxwell admits he feared his Test career was over
Four years and two weeks after he was first handed a Test cap, Glenn Maxwell arrived as a Test cricketer in the culmination of a journey that has been punctuated with angst, tears and occasional outbursts of acrimony.
Some of it stemming from the oft-maligned allrounder himself.
Despite a first-class batting return that prior to today had netted him just five first-class centuries in six years, plus a bowling average the wrong side of 40, Maxwell has repeatedly dared to suggest that the game’s long form is his strong suit.
Until he sliced a latish cut shot past the flailing left hand of the gully fielder shortly after 10am Ranchi time this morning and promptly folded in a moment of overwhelming personal triumph, it had remained a view that belonged almost exclusively to Maxwell.
Quick Single: Maxwell's maiden ton completes trifecta
Now he has a Test century on his CV, the prospect of a tenure in the elite format ahead of him and a fair few less critics on his back, if not quite throngs of converts falling at his feet.
That's because the 28-year-old’s ability to change the outcome of cricket matches with bat or ball in hand (as bowler and fielder) has only been truly rivalled by his capacity to polarise opinion.
Not just among the global army of keyboard warriors who spray their cowardly fire from the sanctuary that anonymity affords, but multiple times from his teammates and even his Australia team coach, Darren Lehmann.
Maxwell was fined by a panel of his playing peers after he suggested that his chances of being included in the revamp of Australia’s Test team undertaken last November had been cruelled by his Victoria captain – now Test teammate – Matthew Wade’s decision to bat himself ahead of the allrounder at Sheffield Shield level.
Report & Highlights: India fight back after Australia's 451
An outburst that also prompted Lehmann to pointedly note, in response to queries as to why Maxwell was not considered for the vacant number six batting berth that went at that time to Nic Maddinson, that his numbers simply didn’t stack up.
"(Maxwell) hasn’t made a hundred for two years," said Lehmann, who two years earlier had also publicly taken aim at Maxwell’s ill-chosen shot selection at a crucial moment of a one-day international in Perth.
"Are you going to pick a bloke who hasn’t made a hundred in two years?"
Between the time of that latest bake from the national coach and Maxwell’s recall to the national Test squad for the four-match Qantas Tour of India, the enigmatic Victorian played not a single first-class match, averaged just over 30 in six ODI outings (top score 78) and endured an indifferent KFC Big Bash League campaign with only one 50-plus score.
Yet he was included in Australia’s 16-man touring party having seemingly been identified as one of those 'subcontinent specialists' that were supposed to be able to turn around Australia’s wretched recent record in Asia.
And then summoned into the playing XI this week when first-choice subcontinent specialist allrounder Mitchell Marsh was sent home with a shoulder injury.
"To get back in the side in the first place was something I really held close to my heart," Maxwell said in a heartfelt media conference that followed his 104 that had been scored at an unfamiliar pace across more than four hours.
"I was so happy to be able to walk back on the field with the Australian Test team with the Baggy Green cap on, and I was just filled with joy when I got told I had the opportunity to do that again.
"I didn’t want to waste the opportunity, didn’t want to make it my last Test that’s for sure."
Maxwell admits he hadn’t done himself justice in his most recent Test outing, against Pakistan in the UAE during Australia’s disastrous tour there in late 2014.
In countless media interviews he gave after that campaign, as his fame (and, at times, infamy) as a white-ball entertainer extraordinaire began to overshadow his long-form credentials, Maxwell would speak about his deep belief that Test cricket best suited his vast skills set.
But the absence of strong form lines at Sheffield Shield level, and during a brief stint with English county Yorkshire where he had scored his previous first-class century in 2015, it was dismissed by many as lofty thinking.
And to his growing frustration, which would occasionally bubble over when the topic was raised at media events, his chances to show that it was a merit-based belief became fewer and further apart.
"I was in a place where I doubted whether I'd play Test cricket again, whether I'd have a chance to put the cap back on," Maxwell said tonight.
"I just did everything I could, on and off the field.
"I trained as hard as I could. I changed things in my technique, I had numerous conversations with different people and tried to stay in the loop as much as I could and just kept on asking questions.
"Just changed people's perception of what they thought Glenn Maxwell was doing.
"They knew exactly every time they’d go 'what's Maxi doing?' – well we know he's been training, we know he's been in the gym, or we know he's been over here (in India) playing golf, it doesn't matter.
"I was always in contact with them and just having those conversations which made people lose those perceptions a little bit.
"You gain a bit of trust off people as well.
Quick Single: Super Smith leaves teammates awestruck
"For them to have that trust in me, it probably led to them giving me this opportunity."
But Maxwell has grown accustomed to being harshly judged, sometimes even ostracised, for bearing what former Australia coach John Buchanan used to call 'the curse of the truly talented'.
Playing schoolyard cricket when growing up in Melbourne, Maxwell was instructed to only bat left-handed so the other kids stood some chance of claiming his wicket.
The unexpected benefit of that draconian measure being the skill that he now displays when employing the left-handed 'switch hit' and reverse sweep.
He was also told that if he continued to dominate childhood games of Australian football, where he was predisposed to taking the ball in the backline and evading all opponents as he ran the length of the field to try and score, he would be consigned to the basketball courts in his lunch and recess breaks.
And as recently as 2015, Maxwell spoke without conceit but with genuine candour about how the change in rules in one-day cricket that limited the numbers of fielders allowed outside the restrictive circle to four made the game almost too easy for him.
Because he had too many strokes in his repertoire to hit those beckoning gaps, and therefore ran the risk of getting himself into strife when he plucked the incorrect option from that vast bag.
But Maxwell has always been a cricketer who plays at his best when operating on instinct, and is regularly driven – sometimes to his own detriment - by emotion.
That was what coursed overwhelmingly through him when he reached the century he had openly craved for so many years, but had come to fear he might never realise just as countless others (for reasons only they can rationalise) felt he did not deserve.
"It was probably more the emotions of the whole night I had as well," he said this evening when asked about his feelings as that cut stroke scorched to the boundary.
"You go to sleep (Thursday night) 82 not out, you’ve just put on 150 with the skipper, I thought about it all night.
"I went through about 300 to 400 different scenarios that could’ve happened the next day, most of them weren’t good.
Quick Single: A wicket 1944 days in the making
"So much emotion fell out of me as soon as I got that hundred.
"Even thinking about it now I’ve got a frog in my throat.
"It’s as special a moment as I’ve had in my career and hopefully it’s not the last.
"Hopefully, it just ticks something inside that I can continue to be consistent.
"That’s always been the biggest thing the coaches, selectors have always wanted is consistency.
"If I can keep producing long innings and batting long periods of time, building partnerships with other players that’s going to go a long way to firstly holding my spot but secondly winning games for Australia."