It’s taken some time and for his best mate to land the role, but finally Glenn Maxwell has a captain that understands his value to Australian cricket.
In Aaron Finch, the enigmatic Maxwell has a leader who respects him, his opinions and his approach to the game. Finch’s appointment has allowed the all-rounder to thrive in an environment where he’s no longer walking on eggshells, questioning every move.
And it’s paid immediate dividends. Maxwell recently took his first ever five-wicket haul for Lancashire in the County Championship, a haul arguably not possible without the faith shown by Finch in ODI cricket.
In the 16 matches Finch has captained Australia since taking over from Tim Paine, Maxwell has bowled 79 overs. In the 16 games prior to Finch’s appointment he bowled just 11.
His form with the ball gives Australia flexibility in an otherwise rigid World Cup line-up. Should Marcus Stoinis’ lacklustre form continue with the bat, Australia may choose to get ten overs out of Maxwell as the fifth bowler.
Through this they could play both Usman Khawaja and Shaun Marsh rather than picking between the two. And while that would be a risk, it’s a responsibility Maxwell can handle.
But it’s not just the all-rounder’s bowling that has improved under Finch. Speaking with Gerard Whateley on Wednesday morning, it was evident he was more relaxed in the national environment with Finch at the helm.
“I think we are (good for each other)” Maxwell said. “We have some really good chats on and off the field.
“I think it’s nice for him to have someone that’s 100 per cent honest with him regardless of what the game situation is or how each of our games are going. We certainly don’t fluff about when we’re talking to each other. It’s sometimes hard to take criticism but when it’s coming from your best mate you generally listen.”
The pair go back a long way. Former housemates in Melbourne, Maxwell followed Finch over to Yorkshire in 2015 for a winter stint in the UK and was MC at Finch’s wedding last year.
“He’s someone who’s always been there for me,” Maxwell said in 2015.
“Since I first came to the Victorian squad, for some reason he took a liking to me early on and really took me under his wing and made that transition into the Victorian line-up a lot easier.”
The relationship, moreover, isn’t beneficial just to Maxwell. Finch is a collaborative captain who takes on suggestions and is continually willing to learn – something Justin Langer has commented on several times. Through this he values Maxwell’s tactical nous, something that came to the fore during his Melbourne Stars captaincy this summer.
“If he’s asking for advice about a situation in the game while we’re out there in the field, I’ll generally give my two cents, and he can make his evaluation as captain from there. I think we work really well together and hopefully we can continue that bond for the World Cup.”
More than anything, though, Finch gives Maxwell confidence. Despite his outward conviction, Maxwell needs regular reaffirmation of his real value. Finch provides this and perhaps inadvertently gives his mate a sense of belonging.
“There’s a bit of trust within the team to play my role,” Maxwell said. “It feels like I’ve got a certain role at the moment which is a nice feeling … I’ve definitely gone through stages in the last 12 months where I doubted whether I’d even be there.”
Under Steve Smith, Maxwell never truly felt at home. Infamously told to train smarter and reprimanded by Australian leadership for off-the-cuff remarks about a lack of batting opportunities at Victoria, he felt out of place. He was the creative kid wound in and told to conform.
But Finch knows the potential benefits to Australian cricket in letting Maxwell express himself. And given his raw ability, it could prove the difference in Australia lifting the World Cup on 14 July at Lord’s.