Penny drops for Maxwell
Two weeks ago Glenn Maxwell made 37 against England in Hobart. The innings ended with an attempt to clear the boundary that failed to clear Joe Root. Neither Maxwell's handy rather than hefty score nor the manner of his exit did much to change the popular view that his notable talent was a long way from being properly harnessed.
But that innings actually represented something of a turning point. Since then, Maxwell played a dominant role in the triangular series final, sculpting 95 then plucking four wickets. In the warm-up game against India in Adelaide on Sunday his hyper aggression was channelled into a century of typical ferocity but also considerable wit, manipulating the bowlers before monstering them in the latter part of a 57-ball stay that reaped 122.
The man Maxwell has been watching to provide the example for his game is Steven Smith, who is younger in terms of age but appears far older and wiser as a cricketer. On that night in Hobart, Maxwell had batted with Smith as he put together a century of the sort that has become his recent habit - calm, composed and tailored precisely to the situation at hand. The penny seems to have dropped.
"When I was batting with Steve Smith at the start, I really enjoyed that because he was taking all the pressure off me," Maxwell said. "The way he was moving around, he was still scoring freely. With Mitchell Marsh as well, we've got a really good relationship on and off the field. We put on a 100 in Zimbabwe, and we loved batting every second of that. To really enjoy batting with the person at the other end makes the whole job a lot easier as well.
"The way we went about, we talked at every over, I suppose two relatively young guys, we haven't played a whole lot of one-day games. I think if you play less than 50 games, you're still pretty new to the game. So, we just enjoyed batting together, we talked about how we're going to get about, how we're going to tackle certain balls, I think that made the whole job a lot easier."
The way Maxwell does the job is always going to stand out for its flamboyance. What appears to be changing though is that far greater method is being added to the madness. Axar Patel was worked around by a trio of reverse sweeps in Adelaide, a shot that Maxwell had been criticised for using early in an innings during his most recent Test match, against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi. Having stretched the bowler by that method, Maxwell then capitalised by using the orthodox version to put the ball into the stands.
Smith has spoken of rewarding himself for earlier forbearance by widening his repertoire later in his innings. Maxwell has started to think along the same lines.
"You've just got to pick your times, I suppose," Maxwell said. "What people are starting to understand is that the reverse sweep is a normal shot. It's as normal shot as it can be, it's exactly the same as sweep shot, it's just the other way. But I think people are understanding that's almost normal. I just delay playing it until I feel like it's acceptable, I suppose. I felt like I delayed it long enough, playing anything in the air, anything people might think it's risky. It's just about delaying it as long as you can.
"I think Steve Smith is a great example of someone who has an amazing understanding of the game, especially at such a young age. Just watching some of those guys, and the way they've gone about things, especially over the last 12 months, it's been very impressive. If you look at Steve's first four to five games, he didn't even have a fifty next to his game, and now he's got a couple of hundreds, couple of fifties, and he looks as sound as anyone on the field. Almost looks like he's taking the mickey sometimes."
Mickey-taking was something being done at Maxwell's expense for much of this summer, following on from that ill-starred dalliance with No. 3 in the Test batting order against Pakistan. There was a period of the season in which Maxwell appeared to have taken a lot of that on himself, but time has helped him sort helpful advice from hurtful invective, keeping the former and discarding the latter - particularly the notion of selfishness.
"I took different things to heart, took different criticism to heart," he said. "I didn't let all of it miss me, I like to think I'm quite laid back and I can cop criticism. But sometimes, it hits pretty close to home, and sometimes you think it's a personal attack on you. So, for anyone who knows me, they'll know I'm not like that at all. People saying I'm an egocentric show-off who doesn't care for the team - sometimes that hurts, and I don't really understand it.
"Every time I've played for whatever team, I've always tried to win the game for the team, and have the team's best interests at heart. Some people might not think so, some might think all those different shots are a way for me to stand out, which is complete rubbish. I suppose that's the toughest thing to deal with - when people don't understand, and have a crack at you for being something different, apart from the team. I don't want to be known as the 'Big Show' or anything like that - I just want to be known as an integral part of Australian cricket who is hopefully going to take us to the World Cup."
For much of the summer, such a scenario seemed unlikely. But as Maxwell observed, he has made enormous strides these past two weeks. "To make the most of the opportunity shows that I'm taking bigger steps towards being that guy in the middle order that we can actually rely on."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig