It would make for a fascinatingly uneasy watch when, or if, Victoria’s teammates Matthew Wade and Glenn Maxwell bat together at some point in the series — there is a possibility that it could be on Friday. For, a few months ago, Maxwell had launched a scathing tirade at his domestic skipper. His grouse was that Wade was prioritising his own re-selection over Maxwell in the domestic side. It didn’t stop here. When eventually Maxwell was picked in the team, he carped that he was made to bat too deep down the order — he has frequently groused the fact that he was shuffled around in the batting order in his sporadic appearance for Australia.The domestic snub, he said, hampered his re-entry into the Australian Test side. And, of course, it hurt his ego. “That’s probably a little bit painful at times. I think probably batting below the wicketkeeper (Wade) is also a bit painful as well,” he moaned. There was something Kevin Pietersen-like about him — a streak of heightened self-importance and a superior-than-thou posturing.
The wanton accusations, though, didn’t go down well with the cricket board. It even irked coach Darren Lehmann, one of his sympathisers in the past. The national coach snapped back, after Maxwell cribbed for being overlooked for the South Africa series, “Are you going to pick a bloke that hasn’t made 100 for two years?” The message was clear: to reclaim his national spot, Maxwell had to score hundreds, which surprisingly for a player of such range, had been few and far between. In 47 first-class appearances, he had eked out only five centuries, the last of which had come for Yorkshire in 2015. A Test average of 13.33 doesn’t advertise his case either.
Impelled, he began his quest for that elusive century. But it remained just that: elusive. You’d wonder why a frantically sought T20 league galactico is so desperate for long-form recognition. It goes with the whole paradox of Maxwell — a super-rich man who still drives around in his Nissan Maxima purchased second-hand for 8000 Australian dollars, the emotional man who never misses a family reunion, the ol’ buddy who still hangs out with his childhood friends when in town.
To stretch that strain of irony, the century never materialised, but Maxwell found himself on board the jet to India. While there were stunned critics back home — he hasn’t even faintly suggested that he has the temperament, more than the technique, to thrive in Test cricket — his selection made sense. He can bowl decent spin, and if his batting clicks, he could be the ruthless destroyer of bowlers, one who leaves a scar on the bowler’s psyche. It could be a huge windfall for Australian cricket, which is no longer churning out run machines in surplus. Maxwell could be a win-win situation for himself and his cricket team. And in case he fails, he could be shunted forever out of Australia’s Test scheme.
With all this emotional churn and his team in strife, Maxwell walked out to bat. Now just to show what he is capable of when the mood aligns, let’s scroll a scorecard from the 2013-14 Sheffield Shield match between New South Wales and Victoria. Victoria lost by an innings and 48 runs, and in both innings combined made only 404 runs, off which 221 runs came off Maxwell’s blade. And those runs came off 197 balls. He scored 127 at a breakneck pace in the second innings, which didn’t avert a defeat, but staved off embarrassment. For Victoria, at one stage, were 6 for 9, and NSW boasted a skilful bowling attack, with Josh Hazlewood, Doug Bollinger, Trent Copeland and Sean Abbott.
A mature knock
On Thursday, the juncture when he came out to join Smith wasn’t as dire as 6 for 9. Australia were 140/4 on an unmalicious surface. But Umesh Yadav was bowling with his tail up. Ravichandran Ashwin, his nemesis the last time he came to India, could dust up magic out of nowhere. Ravindra Jadeja can prey on your patience. But Maxwell batted with the balmy demeanour of a veteran batsman, his feet moving fluidly and hands surgically navigating the ball into the gaps. At times, especially when he came down the track, he looked more certain and pleasing than the centurion skipper himself. For the first time in his stop-start Test career, he looked the part. He looked as if he genuinely belonged to this stage; the technique and temperament bonded seamlessly, lulling us into believing that his grouses, after all, were legitimate. A particular piece of stat stood like an emblem of his long-form labour — his first boundary came off the 57th ball. He had taken six balls fewer for his only ODI hundred, and nine fewer for his only T20I hundred.
As the day wore on, Maxwell shed his self-woven web of restrain and completed his maiden half-century, ending the day just 18 short of that elusive hundred his coach had demanded of him.