Glenn Maxwell: remixing batting

When I was 18 I bought Radiohead’s Kid A, I took it home and hated it, it didn’t have ‘real songs’ on it like ‘The Bends’ and ‘OK Computer’, it was weird, jumbled and different.  To the cricket purist Glenn Maxwell’s batting may appear weird, jumbled and different.

The third-ball, reverse-sweep while batting at No. 3 in a Test Match, the first-ball leave in the BBL – I don’t blame people for saying Maxwell is jumbled. But its more than that, this isn’t just an impetuous slogger, a T20 flash in the pan who’s luckily getting on a roll against a few weak opponents. Maxwell’s approach represents something entirely different, a recalibration of what we know as batting, and Maxwell is fast becoming the most compelling on-field individual in cricket and indeed Australian sport.

If nothing else, Maxwell is brave. 130 years of players batting a certain way conditions us to what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’. Purists might be harsher, saying Maxwell’s batting can be reckless and selfish. Maxwell was shaken by the intense criticism levelled at him but thankfully he has held his nerve. He’s challenging what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in batting, and when he comes off he takes game away quicker than anyone has before wearing Australian colours.

Regular batsmen leave balls early, play straight, work singles, nudge and nurdle before expanding.  Maxwell’s trick involves a rhythm all his own, he generally hits a boundary on ball 1 or 2, and then he follows by reverse sweeping a medium pacer to the fence. That’s not meant to happen, but it’s happening regularly. As fans we might have to get our heads around what that means – he’s not being a smart arse, that’s the way the guy bats.

For argument’s sake let’s say Australia play New Zealand in the World Cup Final, Boult and Southee are swinging the ball around corners and have us 4-40. Maxwell strides to the crease – what do you want him to do? Do you want to him to play straight and prod at the ball with three slips in place, the tried and true method of getting a batsman out for 130 years of international cricket? Or should Maxwell forget that 130 years and look at the ball swinging away, switch the hands and just help the ball on its way over slips for a boundary? He looks a fool if he goes out but who is to say that Maxwell’s approach isn’t a whole lot more logical? Who can play an out-swing ball anyway? This is the prism we need to judge Maxwell through now. We know the good is devastating and maybe we need to re-evaluate the ‘bad’

Maxwell is turning what we know on its head. He’s probably not a Radiohead fan but you can liken Maxwell’s batting to hip-hop’s deconstruction of rock music, he cuts and pastes the most destructive elements of batting, adds a few of his own inventions and rearranges it in a whole new order that puts enormous pressure on a bowler. His is the game plan that has no negating game plan at the moment. Maxwell looks at the field and decides the places where he is going to hit the ball before the bowler starts his run. Sure he uses instincts to adjust, but he has spots picked out from the start and he combines power with supple wrists that put the ball to places you don’t think are possible. And that’s his first option, not the traditional wait for a bad ball, his worst case option involves a bunt down the ground where he still gets a single.  He’s scarily showing us that with this approach there’s not many good balls.

Maxwell’s innings’ have the ability to take a game away, and while the Australian selectors may have crucified him with his muddled roles in his brief Test stints, they must be applauded for backing this approach in the long game. They get that this is a genre-shifting talent.

Then there’s the aesthetic side of his batting, as wanky as it sounds, Maxwell’s batting as art. He is remixing batting and creating something new. Like all good art it shocks and provokes but ultimately is thrilling and rewarding, we’re starting to get the reward now. Maxwell coming into bat is making one day cricket watchable again as we’re seeing batting redefined, and it’s all the more enjoyable in one-day cricket as opposed to T20 cricket as the audacity seems greater, and the enjoyment longer lasting and more meaningful.

Would Maxwell work in Test cricket? That may be a question we need to look at ourselves for, would we cricket fans allow Maxwell to work in Test cricket? Can we change the way we think and not cause a chorus when he’d dismissed playing a reverse sweep second ball? Can we change the way we judge what is ‘proper batting’? Can we say that a Maxwell dismissal is not anymore ugly than a defensive prod edged to the ‘keeper? Maybe we need to adapt.

I for one would make sure I’m near a TV set anytime Maxwell bats in Test cricket, it would be drama, high art and perhaps farce all rolled into one. Winning Test matches is great, but a greater contribution in the bigger picture may be making people watch Test matches, knowing that the unorthodoxy will result in winning them in a whirlwind all of your own making.

I was hoping Kid A would contain more of the anthemic verse-chorus-verse hits of previous Radiohead albums, it didn’t and I was left hollow. But over time it’s become my favourite Radiohead album and is now universally acclaimed as the critics’ choice of album of its era, an appreciation of how something challenging the norm can be the most rewarding. Let’s hope Glenn Maxwell keeps challenging the norm and we all (eventually) get to watch and savour the rewards.   

Comments

  1. Is Maxwell cricket’s Stevie J?

  2. E.regnans says

    Love this piece.
    Re-imagining anything takes a lot of doing.
    Creativity, daring, courage, and the rest.

    The Kid A analogy works for me.

    It seems like a different approach we’re seeing to the notion of batsmen ‘valuing their wicket.’ It’s a shift from “gotta preserve my wicket no matter what,” – and all the associated cliches (“you’ can’t make runs sitting in the sheds” etc etc) and a shift towards the logical: “I’m going to go out some time – I might as well get a few away while I can.”
    That’s speculative tail-ender thinking.
    But applied by someone with an eye like a dead fish. And freakish skills.
    And an artist, no less.

    It’s new.
    He’s previously bamboozled me. Of course he has (my mind hasn’t caught up).
    But good luck to GJ Maxwell and to all those prepared to have a crack.

    I wonder about the place in a team sport for the artist.
    Are the rest of the team ‘carrying’ this artist, hoping for regular masterpieces, knowing that should one be created that they will win, but should one not, that they will effectively play one short?
    Can the artist ever make it to the top of professional (i.e. grinding, relentless) sport?
    Or does the pinnacle belong to those playing the percentages, filling in their wellness surveys, eating between the lines…?

  3. Brutus,
    I have read your piece twice and have found myself agreeing and disagreeing with it in equal measure.
    The main point I would make that T20 is so far removed from Test cricket that they are virtually different games.
    By the way, I loved Kid A from the first time I played it. Still do.

  4. Brutus

    Great analogy. A big Radiohead fan, Kid A confused and disappointed me. I think Maxwell is the same. I swore off him in Tests, only to see him mature playing for the Vics in recent years. Maybe this is his Andrew Symonds moment, who underdelivered for so long before finding his Workd Cup stage in South Africa.

    The Poms are being blasted for being predicatble and staid. Maxwell challenges that as you rightly say, and occassionally it will come off. There’s probably a place for him.

    His test career may not be over

    sean

  5. I remember when Warner had no place in the Test team. You need to protect the wicket, take the shine off the new ball, set yourself for the long haul etc etc etc

    He’s brilliant for the team – taking the shine off the new ball by smashing it into the stands; upsetting opening bowlers; putting runs on early, meaning a result is more likely.

    He may go out early; but all batsmen can go out early.

  6. Good article Brutus.

    I have no issue with Maxwell playing his natural game and playing test cricket. His recent 1st class record says he’s as deserving as any Marsh to get a gig.

    That innings v Pakistan was an abomination though – for one sending him out at #3, and notwithstanding that, going agricultural before he was in anyway set, particularly in the situation of the game.

    Will be interesting to see how he goes in English conditions. If he can handle swing then he’ll treat those grounds like his backyard.

  7. early doors I hated watching Pietersen, convincing myself he could not last long with “that” technique. Eventually he became my fav “Pom”.

    Someone commented that Maxwell (and to a lesser degree some othet T20 stars) disregard their stumps totally. It is a massive mental adjustment from our junior advice – “always know where your off stump is”…he doesn’t even know which is the off peg!

  8. Jim Johnson says

    South Belgave Cricket Club. Seeing my old Cricket Club mentioned I went to a 60-year-old trophy on which is recorded.
    South Belgrave CC 1st XI
    Batting & Bowling Average
    Club Champion
    Season1954-55
    This 1954-55 season at age 21 years was my 8th season playing for a 1st 1X Team in Open Aged Cricket. Five seasons with Ringwood where I won two Bowling Averages, 1949-50 aged 16 & 1950-51 aged 17 and one Club Champion in 1950-51 aged 17. I played in three consecutive Ringwood Premiership teams 19551/54. I was invited to train at Richmond and Melbourne Cricket Teams in 1951. I played in both the Football and Cricket teams for Melbourne High School in 1950. I played three full seasons with The Mooroolbark “one and only” First Eleven where I won the Bowling Average in 1948-49 aged 15.
    The South Belgrave Cricket / Football ground was where in the summer I played Cricket and in the winter I played Football (Ausie Rules) 1954/57. Like the MCG the wicket, Dirt not Turf, was churned up in the winter and then leveled out into a Dirt Pitch which was then covered with matting that was pegged down on the playing days. The Country Week team was combined from the Mountain District and the Fern Tree Gully Cricket Association. I was one of only six players selected to represent The Mountain District / Country Week Team. The South Ground was not the biggest ground but to hit a ball for six into the tops of the Gum Trees as young Glen Maxwell did six times in a row to go from 64 not out to 100 retired in an under 17 Semi Final with South Belgrave was some hitting. I never hit a six while playing my four seasons at South Belgrave. Stab Punt Jim.
    I am very proud to be on the South Belgrave Honour Board in both the Football and Cricket sections.
    Jim Johnson

  9. Scott Anderson says

    Hey Jim Get in touch with the Club. The Club Historian is keen for a chat as we had lost track of your whereabouts

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