Glenn Maxwell has not played a first-class match in more than two months but his work in the nets to master the offspinner's stock ball has impressed Australia's selectors as they finalise the Test squad for the upcoming tour of India. The coach Mickey Arthur has suggested a spinning allrounder will be part of the Test squad, to be announced later this week, and Maxwell is a leading candidate after narrowly missing out on a Test debut against Sri Lanka in Sydney earlier this month.
Although he remains far from a frontline bowler, Maxwell could be called on to fill the allrounder's position in India as Australia adjust to life without Shane Watson's bowling. The retirement of Michael Hussey has opened up a place in the lower middle order and Arthur said the selectors would keep their options open in India, with spin- and seam-bowling allrounders in the mix along with a specialist batsman, as well as the possibility that Matthew Wade could move up to No.6 to allow room for an extra bowler.
"We've tried to cover every base that we can," Arthur said of the Test squad. "We could play a spinning allrounder, we could play a seam-up allrounder, we will have the option of two spinners, we'll probably have as many as five quicks going over. We'll try and cover as many of the bases as we possibly can and then determine team that plays based on the conditions that we face.
"We have the option of slotting Wadey up to 6 and playing a spinning allrounder or a seaming allrounder, but we'll have that position at No.7 available. If we want to go with the six specialist batsmen then that will be the wicketkeeper's position. Those are the things we have to weigh up."
The likelihood of spinning pitches in India might improve Maxwell's chances of playing alongside the frontline offspinner Nathan Lyon, although the left-armer Steve O'Keefe has also made a strong case with eight wickets in a Sheffield Shield match for New South Wales over the past week. O'Keefe is the leading spin bowler in the Shield this summer with 17 victims at 24.29, and his overall first-class figures of 78 wickets at 27.33 are encouraging.
It may be that Lyon and O'Keefe are included as the lead spinners alongside Maxwell as more of an all-round option, leaving the selectors with plenty of choices. Although Maxwell only bowled 16.1 overs during the ODI and T20 games against Sri Lanka, there were signs that he was turning the ball more than in the past and Arthur said he had been impressed by the progress Maxwell had made since he was earmarked by the selectors at the start of the summer.
"Maxwell has bowled extremely well, he is getting better and better," Arthur said. "I thought he bowled really well in Hobart in the last one-day game, albeit he only bowled two overs, but there was good shape on the ball and he did a nice job. In these two Twenty20 games he has done a nice job. He works incredibly hard.
"One of the things we've sat down and said is if you want to be the spinning allrounder you've got to put a huge amount of time into your bowling, because Maxy would always try to bowl the miracle ball and then he'd bowl a leggie, then try a doosra, he just didn't settle on anything. All we've got him in the nets is bowling offspin, offspin, offspin. It's repetition all the time and he's getting better and better at it. He's a very fast learner."
Patience has never been Maxwell's strong suit, as he demonstrated while waiting for Sri Lanka to finalise their plans for the last ball of Australia's Twenty20 chase in Melbourne on Monday, but it is an attribute he has tried to introduce to his bowling. The challenge for Maxwell will be if he does win a Test cap to show that he can maintain such perseverance if the Australians spend days on end in the field.
"It [patience] is something I've had to learn," Maxwell said before the Melbourne T20. "Wanting things to happen very quickly has been the way I have gone about things. Learning patience has been something I have worked on with Warnie and a few of the other guys in the state set-up. I've done a whole lot of work. I've been in the nets relentlessly for the last 12 months.
"Shaping the ball has changed a lot, I'm starting to get the ball to drift away from the right-hander and spin back, which I wasn't really doing. It was very straight [before]. I'm getting a lot more work on the ball, my pace and control is better as well. I'm hoping it's going to be good enough and hopefully I can play in all three formats at some stage this year."