Glenn Maxwell has criticised the mixing and matching of formats faced by Australian players in the early part of the home summer, describing a schedule that has taken him from 50-over cricket to T20, then back to 50-overs and then T20 before getting to play any Sheffield Shield matches as "broken".
Having been omitted from the Australian Test squad for the UAE series against Pakistan and instead played in the domestic limited-overs tournament won by Victoria, Maxwell journeyed to Abu Dhabi and Dubai for a T20 series, then returned home for the ODI series with South Africa. Now, as other Test aspirants prepare for two Shield rounds ahead of the India Test series, Maxwell, Marcus Stoinis among others will now be playing four T20 matches against South Africa and India.
While Maxwell was happy to admit that he had not been making the runs he needed to both demand a spot higher up Australia's ODI batting order and also to press for Test selection at a time when Steven Smith and David Warner remain suspended, he said that the chopping and changing between formats and spots in the batting order made it very hard to find rhythm.
"I think it's a very broken sort of start to the season," Maxwell told SEN Radio. "You're getting flown here, there and everywhere and changing formats, and then as soon as these four T20s are done you're back into Shield cricket and trying to put your name up for Test selection again. It's been interesting. I've probably been working on different things to what I had been during the JLT Cup period. Having come straight into the T20s over in Dubai, working on a lot of power hitting and trying to clear the rope, and started to make some inroads there, then getting back into the one-day stuff I went back to technique stuff and was working on that.
"Then all of a sudden we're back in the T20 stuff. As you feel like you're about to make breakthroughs and starting to work it out, you're changing format again and change position in the team. So that can be very frustrating and opportunity and the game situation probably drives how you play as well. So it's been a little bit frustrating, and not winning consistently is quite frustrating also.
"I think it's a lot harder as a lower middle-order batter when you're not sure what situation you're going to come out on during the game and you're not really sure how to prepare for the game as well, there's only so much technique stuff you can do when you go out there and you have to chase 12 an over against guys bowling good yorkers, high bouncers and different changeups. If all you've been working on is your cover drive and straight drive, it's going to be difficult to get a positive result."
While Australia's domestic schedule is now broken into a series of format-by-format blocks, the international programme is a far more complicated exercise, involving the preferences of Pakistan, South Africa and India and the demands of Cricket Australia's strategic, events and broadcasting departments in addition to the preferences of medical and sports science personnel. Maxwell pointed to the long gap between the UAE Tests against Pakistan in October and the first home match against India in early December as an example of why continuity was difficult to find.
"It's a pretty good question," he said when asked whether he'd prefer to be playing Shield matches at this time of year. "The opportunity to play Sheffield Shield cricket probably doesn't come up that often for me, but to get the opportunity to play for Australia you're never going to knock that back, you're never going to miss that opportunity. They've always said that runs in any format count and that's why I'll be doing everything I can to make as many runs as I can in this series.
"But it is difficult missing as much Shield cricket as we do, being white-ball players, but there's two Shield games straight after it and I've got to make those count. It [Test cricket] is probably not at the forefront of my mind at the moment, I'm probably not penciling my name in for that first Test side and a lot is going to have to go right, opportunity-wise, batting in the middle order in T20s you're basically just waiting on what happens above you to see what effect you can have on the game.
"There'd be a few guys a little bit unsure of where they stand right now, and I think they'll probably feel okay after the Dubai series, felt they gave a good enough account of themselves, but unfortunately there's a long time between Tests where a lot can happen. You've only got to look at Shaun Marsh's form. If you'd picked the Test squad the next day you might've left him out, but he's gone back to Shield cricket, made 80 and 98, then made a beautiful hundred in Hobart and looked a million bucks. You can't imagine that Test side without his name now, and a lot can happen between Tests."
As for the comments of the ODI captain Aaron Finch, who had indicated that Maxwell was not presently making enough runs to merit a spot any higher than No. 7 in the Australian order, he was happy to concede he had missed earlier opportunities to secure a higher spot, starting with the mid-year tour of England.
"I need to be bowling, I need to be contributing to the team somehow," Maxwell said. "You're not always going to be gift wrapped positions in that top order with the numbers I have. I've just got to make sure whatever format I am playing in, whether it be this T20 series or Shield cricket when I go back, I've got to keep working and making big scores and making the most of any opportunity.
"I know they're not just going to hand it to me and hope I perform. It's going to have to be earned and I'm hoping once this T20 series is done that I can go back and score heavily in the Shield and really show my batting is actually improving and all the work I have put in over the last few months is showing through.
"I was disappointed that I missed some opportunities in the practice games over in England. Early on the preparation when we went over there was for me to bat at No. 4 in that one-day side and all the training around that was what we were working on, the two practice games I batted at No. 4 and I didn't make the most of those opportunities, and then the first game you're straight back down to Nos. 6 or 7 and then you're always chasing your tail."