The release of pent-up emotion upon reaching a cherished, magical milestone was there for all to see. This was not just another hundred. This was Glenn Maxwell’s maiden Test ton. In his first appearance in the Baggy Green in nearly two and a half years.
In October last year, Maxwell was the 12th man for Victoria in a Sheffield Shield game. Five months on, thrown an unexpected lifeline following a shoulder injury to Mitchell Marsh to resurrect what appeared a doomed Test career, the entertainer grabbed his chance.
For prolonged spells on Thursday (March 16), the opening day of the third Test at the JSCA International Stadium, one wondered where the real Glenn Maxwell was. Who was this impostor? What was he doing, playing close to his body? Why was he defending? Where were the sweeps and the reverses? Hello, surely, this can’t be the Glenn Maxwell? Out with the clone, bring on the original, the maverick, the unpredictable.
“You go to sleep 82 not out, you just put on a 150 with the skipper. I thought about it all night, I went through about 300-400 different scenarios that could have happened the next day. Most of them weren’t good! There was just so much emotion that fell out of me as soon as I got the hundred. Even thinking about it now, I’ve got a frog in my throat. It’s just as special a moment as I’ve had in my career, and hopefully it’s not the last.”
But no, this version of Glenn Maxwell wasn’t going anywhere. He had waited long enough since his last Test appearance, against Pakistan in Dubai in November 2014. He wasn’t going to throw it away.
“It’s been a long time in between drinks… since 2014, my last Test,” said Maxwell on Friday evening, a wistful smile flitting across his face, as he savoured his 104. “To get back in the side in the first place was something that I really held close to my heart. I was so happy to be able to walk back on the field with the Australian Test team with the Baggy Green cap on and I was so filled with joy when I got told I had the opportunity to do that again. I suppose I just didn’t really want to waste the opportunity. I didn’t want to make it my last Test, that’s for sure. I know how bad it felt when I didn’t get… played that last game in Dubai and didn’t play again. Just wanted to make it count… every opportunity I get from now on.”
Make it count he most definitely did. He batted like a ‘proper’ Test match batsman – full face of the bat, no cute strokes, no cheeky innovation, no throwing orthodoxy to the wind. You waited for the explosion – or is it the implosion? And it never came. Not even when he was dismissed, off a sharp turning quick ball from Ravindra Jadeja that took his outside edge on its way to Wriddhiman Saha.
It wasn’t unpretty to watch, actually, this new-order Maxwell. He looked every inch an organised player, his movement decisive, his footwork certain, his judgement of length faultless. He walked into a pretty decent spell of reverse-swing bowling from Umesh Yadav but did well to keep his pads out of the way, and he didn’t play outside of the ‘V’ until he had spent close to an hour at the middle.
He wasn’t scoreless, however. Just nurdling the ball around, he had reached 23 off 56 when Jadeja threw up a moon-ball invitingly. Quick as a flash, Maxwell biffed it to within inches of the boundary rope at long-on. Here we go, this is what we were waiting for!
But wait. While this show of aggression wasn’t a one-off, Maxwell wasn’t sacrificing the orthodox. He was still hitting down the ground – his sixes, both off Jadeja, were over long-on and into the sightscreen respectively – and even when he played the pull stroke, he made a deliberate, elaborate effort to keep the ball down. By the time he reached his half-century, in 96 deliveries, he was within two balls of equalling his longest international innings, and when he went in to the dressing-room at close on 82, he had moved to within three strokes of completing his journey to redemption.
“You go to sleep 82 not out, you just put on a 150 with the skipper. I thought about it all night, I went through about 300-400 different scenarios that could have happened the next day. Most of them weren’t good,” he laughed, like Maxwell usually does at press conferences. “There was just so much emotion that fell out of me as soon as I got the hundred. Even thinking about it now, I’ve got a frog in my throat. It’s just as special a moment as I’ve had in my career, and hopefully it’s not the last.”
Towards the end of last year, Maxwell launched an extraordinary tirade against Matthew Wade, his Australian teammate and Victoria captain, saying the wicketkeeper’s decision to bat ahead of him, at No. 5, for the state side had hampered his choices of a Test recall. Both Darren Lehmann and Steven Smith ticked Maxwell off and he was fined by the Australian team’s leadership group for that outburst.
“Yeah, I got a bit low, that was for sure,” he conceded. “I was in a place where I doubted whether I can play Test cricket again and whether to put the cap back on and I just did whatever I can on and off the field and tried changes in technique and numerous discussions with lot of people and tried staying aloof as much I could. I kept on asking questions to change people’s perception about what Maxwell was doing. They knew what I was doing, whether me being at the gym or at the nets or playing golf and was always in contact and make people change the perception and win the trust of people. Winning the trust was what probably got back the place. Playing this Test had lot of emotions in there.”
In many ways, Maxwell was very fortunate that during his comeback innings, he had at the other end not just his skipper but also someone whom he admires hugely. Smith was quickly in Maxwell’s ear every time he got carried away – which wasn’t very often – and particularly when, late on day one he tried a reverse-sweep, a word of advice rather than admonishment came in handy.
“Ashwin bowled one and I tried to reverse-paddle, not really hit it, and he came up and said, ‘You are playing the ball nice and straight, don’t worry about it’. Good point, and I put it (the reverse) in the bin. I should have probably brought it out after I scored my hundred because there was no real chance of getting out.”
When Maxwell eventually left the park after putting on 191 with his skipper, he had batted for 245 minutes and faced 185 deliveries. The corresponding numbers for six previous innings in his three earlier Tests, all in Asia, were 129 and 114. Talk about a career-changing, perception-changing effort.
His maiden Test century helped him complete the full set of international hundreds. Only Shane Watson among Australians has scored an international ton in all three formats, and before Maxwell, only 12 batsmen worldwide had pulled off that astonishing accomplishment. No. 13 isn’t always unlucky, Maxwell will aver.