Humans project their unhappiness onto external objects, then imagine those objects to be the cause. Cricket fans use an object named Glenn Maxwell.
I’ve had my share of digs at the man. On Roar Radio’s coverage of Australia’s tour to India last March, the whole commentary team lined up to make jibes about Maxwell’s selection.
Admittedly, having a green limited-overs player open both the batting and the bowling in a Test match makes you want to comment. Having it happen under Shane Watson’s captaincy meant you can’t resist commenting. Having that captain mess around the incumbent opener when the captain has recently stated that he wants the opener’s job, and you’re duty-bound to comment.
So we had some fun with Maxwell, who made no runs but took a decent stack of expensive wickets with some ripping off-breaks.
But from that time on, as Maxwell has made himself a fixture in Australia’s limited-overs sides, there has been a deeper antipathy expressed by many commenters toward the man, a disgruntlement not with him, but with things that he is perceived to represent.
These are the kind of things that older people don’t like about young people, that Test people don’t like about one-day people, that people who don’t earn a million dollars in six weeks dislike about people who earn a million dollars in six weeks.
It’s hard to like a human who is nicknamed ‘The Big Show’. It’s hard to like a human with that kind of David Brent goatee thing that looks like an angry hamster has latched onto his face.
It all became a lot easier when Maxwell had a shave and mentioned on TV that he hated his nickname, which had been forced on him by annoying boofheads who knew he hated it. This had the dual effect of provoking James Brayshaw into saying “The Big Show” once a minute during his whole evening’s commentary, and of demonstrating who the real toolbox was in this scenario.
Nonetheless, Maxwell still represents everything that disgruntles a rarely gruntled type of fan: money, media, power, reverse sweeps, hype, high strike rates, and all the LED-bail accessories of the T20 age.
By extension, his own sporting pedigree has been derided. He’s a slogger. He’s a dart-chucker. He’s not a real cricketer. Sure, he’s dynamite in the field, but that’s the first refuge of someone who can’t do anything else.
A real batsman doesn’t clear the front leg. A real batsman follows boundaries with singles. A real batsman has gears, damn it, gears, and Maxwell doesn’t have enough. He is a fixie, a goddamned hipster bike, and we hate those jerks with their sailor tattoos and their collections of crappy old stuff passed off as ‘vintage’.
What we may have missed, through the thicket of our certainty, is a) that Test cricket is old and archaic enough to be considered vintage, thus is due for a hipster revival, and b) that Glenn Maxwell is an incredibly special talent in his own right. A correspondingly special career is in the works.
If you saw his innings in Australia’s T20 World Cup match last night, you’ll know what I mean. It’s easy to look at the scorecard and read 74 from 33 balls. It’s easy to notice seven boundaries and six sixes, and think that the bloke must have collared a few.
The detail is that Australia were chasing 191. The detail is that Maxwell walked to the crease after one over, in which David Warner and Shane Watson had each hit a four and got out. The detail is that Australia’s senior top-order hitters, their Test players, their blue chip stocks, went bust. Then Maxwell went boom.
After three sighters for a single, he hit a couple of fours from left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar. Then he missed a sweep and a reverse and was twice hit on the pad. Pakistan licked their lips and brought on Saeed Ajmal, the world’s premier spinner.
Maxwell put Ajmal’s third ball into the Pakistan dugout, and his sixth into the top deck of the stand.
He glided pace through third man and slapped it over point. He showed Shahid Afridi what it’s like to bowl to Shahid Afridi. He had 30 from his first 12 balls, then combined with Finch to take 30 more from Bilawal Bhatti’s first over.
That brought up his half century, equalling the Australian record of 18 balls. By the time he fell, Australia should have cruised home – 66 runs needed from 50, with seven wickets left. They had started the innings needing nearly 10 an over. They didn’t, but you can’t blame Maxwell.
Above all, his shots were beautiful. Crisp, precise, barely a mis-hit among them – this was no Kevin O’Brien coming out for a bludgeon. It was surgical.
For me, Maxwell announced this trait in the last game of Australia’s ODI tour of India last October. We all knew he could hit, ever since that record-breaking half century for Victoria in early 2011, but this was something else. Big scores abounded all series, but India saved the best for last, setting 384 to win. Australia slumped to 4 for 74, taking 101 balls to get there.
Enter Maxwell, hitting 42 runs in sixes alone as he racked up 60 from 22 balls. Suddenly the team felt like they were back in the match, and while they fell short, James Faulkner was inspired to produce the fastest ODI century by an Australian, and got his team far closer than they had any right to be.
It was in that innings that the character of Maxwell’s play stood out. While there may be better batsmen, I don’t think I’ve ever seen cleaner strikers of the ball than Maxwell and Shikhar Dhawan. Dhawan is a four-hitter, his shots are cuts through backward point or driven straight. Maxwell’s land in someone’s beer.
But however far they go, he barely seems to be hitting them. He waits for the spinners for eternity. He stands still and upright against pace. There is some foot shuffling, perhaps a swivel, a thwack like a cleaver through a Granny Smith, and a ball launches into the night sky.
It is this that Australians can look forward to. Maxwell is not a happy slogger, a wing-and-a-prayer kind of player whose manic attack mode pays off one game in 20. He’s a calculated risk-taker, with the ability to back that risk up. And it turns out he’s very, very good at it.
That may not make him the ideal Test batsmen, and for those upset by the fact, we can only apologise. What it will do is win a hell of a lot of limited-overs games for Australia. And as we saw last night, that even makes the losses entertaining.