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Can Glenn Maxwell, Australia’s sometime subcontinent specialist, offer another special to savour?

Maxwell Test
Aadya Sharma by Aadya Sharma
@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read

When Glenn Maxwell last played a Test, Australian cricket was a different world.

There was no sandpapergate, no captaincy bans, Steve Smith was still the Test skipper, all seemed good.

And now, five years later, Maxwell’s Test career has been shaken out of hibernation. Australia are still among the top two sides in the rankings, but the team has changed significantly since that win in Chattogram, in September 2017.

That remains Maxwell’s only win in an eight-year seven-cap Test career, one that has seen him go on four separate away tours. It began with the 2013 trip to India, around the same time he bagged a million-dollar contract in the IPL, but it was evident that Maxwell was fairly raw against the red ball.

“At the moment I haven’t really played a lot of red-ball cricket,” he had said in November 2013. “I haven’t put a whole lot of big hundreds on the board, so there’s a few things working against me.”

The first series fetched him 39 runs at 9.75, and he was desperate to drop the white-ball specialist tag. A fine 155 for Australia A against South Africa A later that year was a determined effort to start afresh, but he didn’t get another Test until October 2014, after which there was another two-and-a-half-year gap.

A couple more call-ups and discards later, including a five-year hiatus in the middle, Maxwell is looking to make his mark once again. The new life has come at the expense of a Travis Head injury, but it comes with another tag attached to him, that of a subcontinent specialist who can create an impact on slow, spinning surfaces.

At one point, it seemed like Maxwell had finally cracked the code to be that very component in their batting, when he notched a century in Ranchi in 2017. In an innings where fellow centurion Steve Smith was the only other to cross 50, Maxwell bravely countered the spin duo of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to show that he belonged, but that remains an outlier. Even with that hundred, his average reads 26.07. There were starts in Bangladesh, but a significant score never came. For a player of Maxwell’s calibre and style, it’s the impact innings that matter, but they have been few and far between.

Since his last appearance, Australia have played in Asia only twice: in the UAE in 2018, and in Pakistan earlier this year. It played a part in keeping down Maxwell’s hopes of a return, with Australia playing the majority of their games at home since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. What also hurt Maxwell’s case was how settled Australia’s batting order has become in the last 12 months, and the renaissance of Usman Khawaja and Travis Head has meant that the first-choice XI has options galore.

Contrary to his other Test call-ups, Maxwell’s latest assignment comes after very little first-class exposure. He hasn’t played a red-ball game since October 2019, when Victoria were crushed by Western Australia in the Sheffield Shield. In January 2021, he thought his Test journey was as good as over.

He’s continued to be his usual self in the shorter formats – he’s hit a century and two fifties in T20Is in Asia since his last Test, and averages 36.93 in ODIs in the continent since. The selectors’ faith in him has remained intact, reaffirmed by George Bailey in April, who said Australia were “looking forward to him getting back [to red-ball cricket] and playing a good block of cricket through the T20s and one-day cricket”.

Maxwell, the white-ball cricketer, remains pivotal to Australia, as he’s always been, no less in a T20 World Cup year. But there’s also space for him to earn back that subcontinent specialist tag. Since his last game in whites, Australia have won only four of their 14 Tests away from home, and only one out of five in Asia. It could work both ways: if handed a regular chance, Maxwell will benefit from the increased game time; as for Australia, they might see him the missing piece for their subcontinent fortunes.

The latest comeback doesn’t promise anything as yet. He’s been added to the squad to Sri Lanka as Head recovers, and it could just end up being another short chapter that comes and goes. But Maxwell has hope again, he’s elated and he wants to prove himself once more.

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