Justin Langer said something in his first press conference as Australian coach that was of huge relief to Glenn Maxwell.
At seemingly perpetual odds with team culture under Darren Lehmann, Maxwell needed some backing.
“I like ‘different’ people,” the new coach said on May 3.
“If you look at the Western Australian team, the ones I like the most are the ones who are a bit different. You’ve got to have some personality, you’ve got to have some competitive instinct, you have to be comfortable in your own skin.
“You can’t be great at anything without being a bit different.”
The quote could hardly have been more pertinent to the Victorian all-rounder, who just months prior had been strangely singled-out by Lehmann and Steve Smith for his training habits.
A new coach with a fresh outlook was just one of the cards that had seemingly fallen Maxwell’s way. With three top-order batsmen all of a sudden suspended, his chance had surely arrived.
The cherry on top was that Australia’s next Test was in Asia – the continent he had made all seven of his appearances in the baggy green.
Test selection awaited.
He knew, however, his place wasn’t assured. Hard work would precede selection, and the Victorian was keen to prove his worth in September’s tour of India for Australia A.
“There is obviously a bit of work to do in India for an ‘A’ tournament which I’m hoping to be on and put some big numbers up while I’m there,” he said before the squad was announced.
But when the names for that tour – openly spruiked as an audition for the Test team – were read out, he wasn’t on it. Little did we know, he had already been told by the selectors that he didn’t need to play in the quasi-trial matches.
Unlike Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb and Matthew Renshaw, Maxwell was the incumbent who didn’t need to prove himself.
After all, he is one of only three players (alongside Smith and Warner) to score a hundred on the subcontinent in the last two years. The way he uses both his feet and the crease to spinners is superior to most batsmen in the Australian setup.
His confidence was apparent when asked in July by Gerard Whateley (on Melbourne’s SEN Radio) why he wasn’t on the tour.
“There has been a lot of positive reinforcement that I didn’t need to go on that Australia A tour,” Maxwell said.
“Even though there wasn’t any specific words, I did feel confident walking away that they’re giving me an opportunity to prepare for that Test tour.”
After this week’s announcement, where he was incredibly left out of a 15-man squad for the Pakistan series, he may be feeling silly. He shouldn’t.
Did he misread the selectors’ sentiments? Unlikely. Have they flipped on the message they gave him in July? Almost certainly.
After a couple of promising innings from Marnus Labuschagne, Langer, Trevor Hohns and Greg Chappell have selected him (instead of Maxwell) on a hunch – a premise that seemingly dictates much of Cricket Australia’s decision-making.
That they didn’t even give Maxwell the chance to compete for his place when he was sitting at home, resting – under the presumption of being picked for the Pakistan tour – is misleading, disingenuous and simply wrong. He has, yet again, been duped by a series of mixed messages from his coach and selectors.
So what can Maxwell actually do to get into the team? Langer, when speaking earlier this year about the opportunities within the top order following the ball-tampering scandal, laid out what was required to play for Australia.
“If you’re a young batsman now and you’ve got a bit of professionalism and talent and you’re ready to work at it, the opportunities are huge,” he said.
Three factors: professionalism, talent, work ethic.
We know Langer highly rates Maxwell’s professionalism. He said it himself on June’s UK tour: “I have been super impressed with Glenn Maxwell, his preparation has been literally outstanding… I have been incredibly impressed with the way he goes about his business and even the way he has been batting in the nets”.
He also rates his talent, Langer proclaiming during last summer’s Ashes series that Maxwell is “one of the most talented young players of the modern game”.
And finally, his work ethic is unquestioned – the coach said it himself on Tuesday: “An enormous talent, an elite fit young bloke, he’s incredibly fit, he brings so much to the table.”
So what are we missing? This is not to pick apart everything Langer has said about Maxwell in the past. Sure, opinions can change. But the thing is, he gave chances to almost every player to prove themselves on the A tour, except the one who could well be Australia’s best player there.
The notion that Glenn Maxwell isn’t currently in Australia’s best 15 test players is absurd.
It has rubbed an increasingly irritable public the wrong way, yet again.