Australia will go into their seventh World Cup final on Sunday against the trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand and most people would agree that the two best teams have reached the decider at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). New Zealand, who have played all their matches till now in their own backyard in much smaller grounds, may need to tweak their game plans to emerge victorious against the Aussies at the colossal MCG. The #MCGsobig hashtag has come up with its fair share of jokes on the eve of the match as a response to a comment by former Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden who said that New Zealand would struggle to adapt to the MCG. Whether the Kiwis will be confounded by the sheer size of the ground or not, one definite challenge that awaits them in the final is the threat of Glenn Maxwell, the mercurial middle order batsman, who has now become a permanent fixture in an awe-inspiring Australian batting lineup.
Maxwell’s scores in the World Cup so far read 66, 1, 88, 102, 44*, 23. Except in his failure against New Zealand, in all other innings, he has scored at a strike rate of 150 or more. His scoring rate will not come as a surprise to anyone. But the consistency he is trying to achieve should cause some concerns to oppositions. It is very easy to forget that he had been criticised not so long ago for being a loose cannon and had been dropped multiple times from the playing eleven. Even with all his natural abilities to strike the ball and score at astronomical rates, his international career has been a bumpy ride till recently.
Maxwell was called up for Australia’s World T20 campaign in Sri Lanka in 2012 after an impressive debut series against Pakistan in the middle east. One year before this, he had set the record for the fastest ever half-century in Australian interstate one day cricket, reaching 50 runs off 19 balls for Victoria, and in the process, snatched a sure shot victory from a Tasmanian side led by George Bailey. Maxwell, who had already got the nickname ‘Big Show’ from his teammates for his fearless approach to the game, was supposed to make an impact in the Island nation for a team with a lot of relatively fresh players led by Bailey.
Australia’s campaign was going according to plan till they faced Pakistan in their last group stage match. They had overcome the challenges of West Indies, India and a much favoured South Africa. But against Pakistan, they failed to chase a score of 149. It was the first time Maxwell got a proper hit in the tournament and he was out for just 4. But more crucially, earlier in the day, he had dropped Nasir Jamshed who went on to make 65 to rescue Pakistan. As expected, the under-performing Victorian was dropped for the semi-final and one of the most experienced T20 players of all time, David Hussey, was brought in. But the eventual champions West Indies were too good for the Australians as they crashed out of a campaign that had promised a lot more.
Maxwell got to play in front of his home crowds at the start of the next year. But tougher times awaited him. His only contribution of any note was inflicting two run-outs of consecutive balls in the first ODI against Sri Lanka in a five-match bilateral series. He went wicketless in the series and failed to reach double figures in the three matches that he got to bat. Former players and media were quick to brand him as a brash egoistic player who needed to rein in his natural instincts to be successful. There were even suggestions that he should try considering bowling as his first trade. The Sri Lankan visit ended with another unpleasant incident which saw Maxwell involved in an on-field brawl with the then Sri Lankan captain Mahela Jayawardene. To rub salt into wounds, he was unable to get Australia past the line in a tight chase.
Maxwell got his baggy green in Australia’s treacherous tour of India in 2013 which they went on to lose 0-4. In a series where all Aussie batsmen struggled against Indian spinners, he fared no better with 39 runs from 4 innings. He had to wait for another 19 months to play another test match.
Maxwell’s million dollar signing for the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Mumbai Indians came as a surprise to many as his records till then had not warranted such a huge amount of money. He came under much ridicule over social media and he was portrayed as a heavily paid useless cricketer. He played only three matches in the 2013 season. His biggest contribution for Mumbai Indians was his 37 off 14 balls in a high-scoring final of the Champions League T20 tournament later in the year which the team went on to win.
Maxwell was subjected to a public dressing down by coach Darren Lehmann during the ODI series against England in 2014 after he threw his wicket away in a chase at Perth. He joined Kings XI Punjab for the 2014 season of the IPL. He finished the league as the third highest run scorer with 552 runs and became an instant hit among Indian cricket followers too with his ability to clear boundary with ease.
Last October, Maxwell bowled a wicket maiden in the last over against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi to win a match under unlikely circumstances. But Maxwell’s comeback to the test side was also short-lived. Australia’s frailties against spin were exposed again and Maxwell’s brainless batting in the only test he played in that series in Abu Dhabi invited stringent criticism. After the forgettable ODI series against South Africa at home, in which he was dropped for one match as a kick in the backside, Maxwell had to win back the fans and he publicly admitted that he wanted to get rid of the tag of ‘Big Show’ and become more consistent.
The final of the Carlton Tri Series proved to be the perfect stage for him. After an initial hiccup, he guided the Australian innings in an uncharacteristic manner, scoring 95 from 98 balls, and later took 4 wickets to help the team lift the trophy ahead of the World Cup.
Maxwell had the chance to score the fastest century in World Cup history, but he slowed down when he neared the landmark against Sri Lanka in Sydney to get the monkey off his back after string of 90s earlier in his career. It is not just the runs he scores, the fear Maxwell induces in the opposition’s mind that sets him apart. They know that if they do not get him out early, he could take the game away in a matter of 30 or 40 balls. The new ODI regulations, which allow only four fielders outside the inner circle, have already pushed the average ODI scores up and with someone like Maxwell at the end, Australia back themselves to score 10-12 runs per over easily.
So far in this World Cup campaign, Maxwell has taken the Australia score to way above 300 after an initial platform was set up by the top order twice, against England and Sri Lanka. India were lucky in the semi-final to remove him early, otherwise they would have had to chase more than 350. What Maxwell does exceptionally well is playing according to the field set. He reads the field and premeditates what the bowler is going to bowl and then he uses his wonderful wrists to play around the dial.
Australia have a history of players standing up on big match days and in front of his home crowd, Maxwell could prove on Sunday that the MCG is not so big after all if he connects some from the middle of his bat. That would spell trouble for New Zealand and Australia would go a long way to their fifth World Cup win.