With the weeks dwindling until their first official World Cup fixture against Afghanistan on June 1, the Australian set up still finds itself grappling with the constitution of their preferred top order.
James Anderson’s loyalties might sit with England, but the champion paceman has doled out some advice to Australian selectors seeking to defend the cricket World Cup.
Anderson heaped praise on Lancashire teammate Glenn Maxwell after ending his short stint playing English country cricket. Speaking on his Tailenders podcast, the Briton complimented the Australian for his role at the club.
“He has been a great influence in the dressing room, throwing himself into the role as overseas (pro) and one of the senior players,” he said.
Maxwell was able to gain valuable experience in English conditions ahead of the World Cup, playing one first-class county game and six domestic 50-over games. His return with the bat was modest, with a high score of just 35, but he did take 14 wickets across both formats, including a career-best first-class bowling performance of 5-40 at Lord’s.
In his only county match Maxwell was out cheaply to a part-time spinner with just a few runs needed for his side’s victory. James Anderson said about Maxwell’s reaction that “he came in (to the dressing room) absolutely wetting himself laughing”.
But Anderson also made an insightful remark about why Maxwell may not have played more Test cricket for Australia recently while players like Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head have been preferred.
“Going off the reaction of him getting out in that situation and going on what I know of Australia’s coach Justin Langer, I think there might be a slight clash of personalities,” Anderson observed.
Despite any differences in personality, Maxwell is absolutely vital to Langer becoming a World Cup-winning coach.
In recent months Australia has turned their 50-over form around but are still lacking in two key areas where Maxwell will be crucial: late-innings batting firepower and the fifth bowling option.
Late-order big hitting and quick scoring will be crucial in a tournament tipped to have high scores. Australia has a lot of in-form top-order batsmen who can lay the foundation for big scores, but the team will need the middle and lower order to capitalise on any good starts.
There is no better Australian at accelerating the innings than Glenn Maxwell. He has the second-best career one-day international strike rate of all time of 121.95, behind only West Indian Andre Russell, and at the 2015 World Cup Maxwell scored 324 runs at the whopping strike rate of 182.02.
Marcus Stoinis is the only other power hitter in the middle order and his strike rate is 93.50, well below Maxwell’s 121.95. Maxwell will need to be at this power-hitting best during the upcoming World Cup if Australia are to set and chase some daunting targets.
The other area of concern is with Australia’s fifth bowling option. With few all-round options available, Australia are banking on Maxwell, Stoinis and Aaron Finch combining to get through ten overs an innings. Maxwell was used inconsistently when Steve Smith captained the Australian team but now finds himself as a vital cog in the bowling attack.
The danger for Australia’s part-time bowlers is that on small English grounds they will be targeted for some expensive overs by the opposition. Maxwell’s good recent bowling form in England suggests he could be able to hold down an end and take some handy middle-over wickets in conditions tipped to spin.
If Glenn Maxwell can have a good World Cup and help Australia defend its title, it might put him in the frame for an Ashes Test spot.