A small caveat: if the title didn’t tip you off already, this article is about Glenn Maxwell.
As if it that alone wasn’t enough to send the few people reading this running for the hills already (or YouPorn, or whatever the internet equivalent of the hills is), it is also going to say nice things about Glenn Maxwell. You have been warned.
When Editor Steve demanded more articles, he didn’t say anything about said articles not being aimed at the smallest audience imaginable.
Our ‘Great Unsolved Mysteries’ series is largely about those players who fans choose to hate, why they are hated, and what they need to do to win everyone over. This often seems like a fairly random phenomenon (except where Ishant Sharma is concerned, in which case it’s entirely rational). Fans and media alike seem to decide pretty early on whether they like a player or not, often for reasons entirely unrelated to their qualities as a cricketer, and that’s often a stigma they are stuck with for the rest of their careers. In order to win popular opinion over it, at times, seems like a player has to win everything there is to win. And even then some people will refuse to admit they might have got it wrong. Other players have to do much less to win people over, although we suspect Maxwell ain’t gonna be one of those.
Let’s take George Bailey as an example of the latter. Twelve months ago he was hated by everyone, and generally seen as being little more than a source of light comic relief. Fast forward to the present, and if Bailey is named in the Australian XI for the First Ashes Test (which he will), it’ll be to almost universal acclaim, despite him averaging the square root of bugger all (i.e. about 18) in the Sheffield Shield last season. Bailey has managed to buck the trend by scoring a shitload of runs, but also, and perhaps more importantly, generally being perceived as a ‘pretty top bloke’.
Another thing in Bailey’s favour has been the calibre of the people who took pot shots at him in the first place. When a player’s standing falls so low that even non-entities like Brad McNamara are having a go at them, it’s seemingly enough to get most people to consider whether all that criticism is actually fair or not. In Bailey’s case it clearly wasn’t. His suitability for Test cricket notwithstanding, he seems to generally know what he’s doing when at the crease, and people seem to have now accepted the fact that he is actually a pretty decent cricketer after all.
The same couldn’t be said of Glenn Maxwell however. Twelve months ago Maxwell genuinely was a joke. Even Victorians couldn’t take him seriously, and considering how protective they usually are of their own, that’s a pretty big deal. Maxwell’s numbers in First Class cricket were pretty bloody awful. A highest score of 92, and an average of 22.5 in the 2012/3 season doesn’t seem to be the sort of return that warrants a Test call-up. And yet there Maxwell was, playing Test cricket. He even opened the batting, for fuck’s sake.
His List A numbers were even worse. A high score of 58* was enough to get him into the Australian ODI squad. Admittedly standards of inclusion to Australian limited overs teams have dipped a teensy weensy bit of late, but this seemed to be taking the absolute piss. Throw in his million dollar value in the 2012 IPL auction, seemingly the result of the club directors hitting the Kingfisher (where’s our free beer, you bastards?) a bit too hard the night before, and people had good reason to hate not only Maxwell, but also seemingly everything he represents about the state of the modern game.
It’s fair to say that the past six months or so have seen something of a little turn around in Maxwell’s fortunes. The Australian A tour of South Africa was the catalyst. His first innings on the tour saw him notch up 155 against South Africa A, smashing his previous best First Class score. Admittedly he followed that up with a pair in the second game, but the one day series that followed saw him compile totals of 145* (nearly tripling his previous highest List A score) and 93. His subsequent form in T20 cricket, both in England and India, has been strong, and on the just completed ODI tour of India he had scores of 27, 31, 53, 3, 92, 9 and 60.
Clearly Maxwell is a long way from being a top player. Or even necessarily a very good one. His bowling, for what it is, is awful. 21 wickets from 42 List A games at 46.95 probably doesn’t even do justice to just how dire his bowling actually is. But you don’t need to be a decent bowler to carve out an international limited overs career (see Doherty, X). And at least with the bat he is now providing the sort of returns that suggests that his continued selection is not as mind bogglingly insane as it once appeared. As hard as it might be to believe, Maxwell may actually even be turning into a decent cricketer.
Of course, this picture is entirely at odds with the prevailing narrative: that Maxwell is still essentially useless. There is to be no easy Bailey-esque redemption to be found here. He may lack Bailey’s essential ‘top bloke’ quality, but Maxwell doesn’t exactly strike us as a complete dickhead either (at least not compared with some of the other people he shares a dressing room with). That million dollar auction price evidently casts a long shadow, one that this purple patch alone is incapable of removing.
All of which brings to mind another once loathed spinning all-rounder of recent years, someone whose continued selection confounded everyone, and was seemingly only in the Australian one day team on the strength of his fielding. It wasn’t until Andrew Symonds nearly single-handedly won Australia a World Cup that some people grudgingly decided that he might not be completely useless after all. It’s a bit of a reach to suggest Maxwell might be capable of the same, but perhaps not quite as an impossible scenario to imagine as compared with six months ago. Of course, winning the World Cup would be a hell of an achievement. One not even remotely as difficult as winning over popular opinion, but that goes without saying really.