As Australia ramp up their preparation to take on India in the third Test, at Ranchi, all eyes are on the selectors. Pat Cummins appears a like-for-like swap for the injured Mitchell Starc, but replacing busted all-rounder Mitchell Marsh is less clear-cut.
Glenn Maxwell is the prime candidate to replace Marsh, given his x-factor ability in the middle order and handy spin bowling. But is he the best option to slot into the number six spot?
Let’s look at the pros and cons of picking ‘The Big Show’.
Maxwell can win you a game in a session. His hell-for-leather batting approach can demoralise bowling attacks, force defensive field changes, and turn a position of weakness into one of strength.
In the second Test at Bengaluru, Australia, led by Matt Renshaw and Shaun Marsh, did supremely well to bat out the entirety of Day 2 on a devilishly tricky wicket. But a collapse on the morning of Day 3, losing 4/7, saw them take just an 87-run lead into the second innings.
A rapid-fire 30 or 40 from Maxwell at the end of the innings could well have given Australia the buffer they needed to prevent India’s comeback.
There’s also his spin bowling, which, while not world-class, is certainly useful enough to fill in a few overs to give the frontline bowlers a rest, or even serve as a partnership-breaker.
With Nathan Lyon’s finger a concern, having a third spinner to give him a chop-out, especially with Stephen O’Keefe unable to consistently threaten without the huge spin on offer in the first Test in Pune, would certainly come in handy.
Maxwell’s fielding is world-class standard, and with Australia dropping a number of costly chances this series, most notably by David Warner at leg slip, having Maxwell prowling the covers or around the bat would definitely improve the standard.
The thought of Maxwell walking in to bat with the score at 4-140 or similar, with the match evenly poised, fills me with dread. There’s no question he can bat, but his application at the top level has been wanting in his three previous Tests.
The memory of him batting at second drop in the second Test against Pakistan in 2014 with the team 2-34, having conceded 570 in the first innings, belting 37 from 28 balls before being bowled going for a heave over the top (all the with nightwatchman Lyon showing admirable restraint at the other end) is unlikely to leave the minds of the Australian public for some time.
Australia have made a considerable effort this series to play defensive, determined cricket, a blessed relief to fans tired of the overly aggressive approach that failed so miserably in Sri Lanka in 2016 and in the UAE against Pakistan two years earlier.
Even Matthew Wade has said in the lead-up to this Test that he is unsure whether Maxwell will be willing or able to tone down his naturally aggressive game to suit the team’s needs. If his own teammate isn’t sure, then how can the Australian cricket-loving public have any faith?
Additionally, Maxwell’s offspin isn’t even up to the standard of a fifth bowler. Yes, in one-day cricket, he’s proved useful at getting through some quick and reasonably economical overs, even snagged a few wickets. But in a Test match, against batsmen more intent on preserving their wickets than going on the attack, and in conditions where spinners are more crucial than anywhere else on the planet, he’s not up to it.
His three subcontinental Tests so far have yielded seven wickets at an economy of 4.75 per over, with most of those wickets coming from batsmen looking to take him on with Australia all but down and out.
His best bowling figures in Tests, 4-127 on debut, came after a 370-run partnership between Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, and with the score at 1-387 before his ‘haul’, his wickets were basically meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
You might as well pick another specialist batsman and have Steve Smith bowl himself if the main guys need a spell.
You can probably guess by now that I’m not the biggest Maxwell fan, at least not in the longest format. He’s one of the more talented players going around right now, but can you imagine him playing an innings like Matt Renshaw in Bengaluru or even Shaun Marsh?
However, with the other options on the tour being Usman Khawaja, whose ineptitude against spin in Sri Lanka bordered on comical, and Ashton Agar, whose batting would be fantastic for a number nine but certainly not a six or seven, Maxwell is probably the best option for replacing Marsh.
Maxwell will probably get the nod for Ranchi. Personally, I’d choose Kurtis Patterson.