Emotional Maxwell scales his peak at last
Test cricket has been a journey of waiting for Glenn Maxwell. Of rare peaks separated by vast stretches of desert and wondering, broken up by the odd travelling carnival of limited-overs cacophony and luridness. Of carrying drinks and inspiring twitter LOLs, and polarising fans and experts alike.
After climbing his debut peak in Hyderabad in 2013, where he contributed 21 runs and claimed four wickets, Maxwell descended to the waiting plains.
A year and eight months later, another brief ascension, this time in Abu Dhabi. His contribution with the bat was slightly greater but the sight of him charging at Zulfiqar Babar only for the ball to splatter the stumps was enough for many to mark his card: Short Form Slogger. Sentenced to life in the Test wilderness, and take your big show to the carnival big tops along the way.
At his lowest point, weighed down by the waiting, Maxwell feared there would be no parole, no further opportunity to prove what he so desperately wanted everyone to believe; that he was a Test player. Really and truly.
The waiting stretched on. Even when the invitation arrived for India, there was no guarantee of a place at the table.
So Maxwell continued to wait. A drinks waiter in Pune and Bengaluru.
And even when the third peak was scaled and he was a Test player once more, Maxwell had to wait.
This time it was the anxious wait of anticipation, filled with the weight of expectation; a sleep-deprived night with 82 runs on the board. Eighteen measly runs shy of the milestone that is also a mark of belonging.
After waiting three years, four months and 13 days for another shot at Test cricket, the following night was probably the hardest, a build-up of tension that visibly burst when Maxwell, the short-form slogger, reached a carefully and patiently crafted century. There was no leaping or bounding or punching the sky; it was too intensely emotional for extravagant physical display. Instead, Maxwell bowed his head, clenched both his fists and then hugged Steven Smith so hard it seemed he might snap his captain in two.
"It was probably more the emotions of the whole night I had as well," Maxwell said. "You go to sleep 82 not out, you've just put on 150 with the skipper, I thought about it all night.
"I went through about 300 to 400 different scenarios that could've happened the next day, most of them weren't good. So much emotion fell out of me as soon as I got that hundred. Even thinking about it now I've got a frog in my throat. It's as special a moment as I've had in my career and hopefully it's not the last."
"It has been a long time between drinks since 2014, my last Test. To get back in the side in the first place was something 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 just filled with joy when I got told I had the opportunity to do that again. I didn't want to waste the opportunity, didn't want to make it my last Test, that's for sure. I know how bad it felt when I played that last game in Dubai and didn't play again. I just wanted to make it count, every opportunity I get."
Maxwell now shares with Shane Watson the distinction of being the only Australian players to have made centuries in all three formats of the game. But even though few could deny his game-breaking talents in the short form, his inclusion or exclusion in any format has caused headlines and debate.
Some of this stems from his tendency towards unfiltered honesty in front of the media. His admission, during the Australian summer, of feeling frustrated at batting below Matthew Wade when playing for Victoria drew swift rebukes from his coach and team-mates. It capped off a difficult 12 months. At the start of 2016, after being named the Australian T20 Player of the Year, Maxwell hoped it would be his breakout year. Instead, he was in danger of sliding further than ever from his Test dream and he subsequently set off on a mission to change perceptions and prove his commitment.
"I got pretty low, that's for sure," Maxwell said. "I wouldn't say as low as some might think. I was in a place where I doubted whether I'd play Test cricket again, whether I'd have a chance to put the cap back on.
"I just did everything I could, on and off the field. I trained as hard as I could. I changed things in my technique, I had numerous conversations with different people and tried to stay in the loop as much as I could and just kept on asking questions.
"I just changed people's perception of what they thought Glenn Maxwell was doing. Every time they [asked] 'what's Maxy doing?', well, we know he has been training, we know he has been in the gym, or we know he has been over here playing golf. It doesn't matter. I was always in contact with them and just having those conversations made people lose those perceptions a little bit. You gained a bit of trust off people as well. For them to have that trust in me, it probably led to them giving me this opportunity.
"When I got told I was playing this Test, there was a lot of emotion in that as well. I just remember going home that night and just being so excited to put on the cap the next day.
"I've spoken a lot about red-ball cricket in a lot of interviews that I've done, I've spoken at length about how I've always felt like red-ball cricket is my best format. To be able to show that at Test level is something I'm extremely proud of. And, yeah, I can finally almost show people with a result instead of just talking."
Now Maxwell has further challenged perceptions about his temperament. It wasn't just the number of runs he made in Ranchi, it was the maturity and restraint with which they were compiled. The absence of risk and extravagance, the calculated glimpses of his destructive power in lofted drives, beautifully executed, and the patient defence in playing out a Jadeja maiden on 99.
Of course, it wouldn't be Maxwell without at least one moment of anxious inhaling; that came when he slashed the ball just wide of gully to seal the century. But that was the exception: conservatism was the rule.
"Obviously yesterday I came in at a time when it was a bit of a tricky situation," Maxwell said. "I think we were 4 for 140 and luckily I had Steve at the other end who is quite experienced. I worked really well with him, the ball was reverse-swinging and I tried to play as straight as I could and keep my pads out of the way. The plan was pretty simple to keep doing that for as long as possible and try to keep the Indian team out on their feet for as long as possible.
"We were lucky, they bowled a few loose balls to start off the day. We were able to score quite freely. It was unfortunate when I did [get out] because we could have made it a 200-250 partnership that could have really driven the game a long way forward for us."
It's a rare Maxwell innings that isn't peppered with sweeps, reverse sweeps and a plethora of unorthodox shots, but his Ranchi century was an exhibition of hitting in the "V", although that wasn't necessarily the plan Maxwell took to the crease.
"I was planning on sweeping. I was just waiting for the line of delivery at certain stages. And they bowled quite straight to me, so I just never really got the option. Then later in the day, Ashwin bowled one that I tried to reverse.
"Instead of trying to hit it, I tried to paddle it. So I was only trying to get a couple of runs and move a fielder there. But Steve came down and said 'look, you've been hitting the ball pretty well straight, so don't worry about it'. So I put that in the bin."
It was, perhaps, fitting that Maxwell's maiden century arrived with Smith at the other end. When Maxwell made his Test debut in Hyderabad, it was Smith carrying the drinks and trying to convince his many detractors that he was more than a legspinner who batted ugly. He chartered a path Maxwell keenly wishes to follow.
"He probably lifts the team to another level because he makes the game look so easy as well," Maxwell said. "We watch him play and everyone's in awe of the way he goes about it, he does it in such a different, unique way and he owns that. He doesn't care what people say about his technique. He knows he has his technique doubters, but when the bloke's got 19 Test tons and averages over 60, I don't think you can knock it too much."
As much as he would like to emulate Smith, Maxwell feels he can't do what his captain has done in letting go of his now rarely used spin bowling to become a specialist batsman. If he is to make the No. 6 position his own, he needs to have more than one string to his bow and it will be a challenge to cement the role as a spinning allrounder when playing in Australian conditions, where pace is king. Still, if Maxwell has a successful tour here and proves his extravagant talents are truly suited to the Test arena, like those of Smith and Warner before him, he could be a formidable weapon for Australia as an established fixture in the side.
"I can only hope so," Maxwell said. "I can't really answer that right now. Hopefully I can continue to be consistent. That's always been the biggest thing the coaches and selectors have wanted, consistency. If I can keep producing long innings and bat long periods of time, building partnerships with other players, that's going to go a long way to firstly holding my spot and secondly winning games for Australia."
Melinda Farrell is a presenter with ESPNcricinfo