An Ashes spot is no less than gold for any cricketer; be it England or Australia. With just a couple of weeks to go for the oldest Test rivalry, the race of making it to the 16-man squad is only getting tougher in Australia. Although most of the places in the squad are pretty much predictable, but there are few loopholes that need to be addressed. Saying that Australia have a dominant pace attack would be an understatement, but their middle-order is yet to settle, especially No.6 and 7. These are easily the most debated positions and has been making rounds in the fraternity for a while now.
There are many contenders for the No.6 spot, but the question is – Will Australia gamble with Glenn Maxwell for the said position. The explosive all-rounder marked his Test return with an emphatic ton against India in Ranchi, but a string of low scores in the next few games have certainly sabotaged his chances of retaining a spot in the Test line-up. He got good starts in Bangladesh but failed to convert, which is criminal at this level. Maxwell garnered 277 runs in eight innings at 37 since his Test comeback, but the national selectors made it quite clear that the No.6 position was there for the taking for anyone.
Maxwell played all the matches in the sub-continent and did reasonably well, in fact, he has been the fourth highest run-scorer for his side since his return. Although Australia haven’t enjoyed a great run there, but there are few positives to take.
Australia’s leading run-scorers since Maxwell’s Test return
Maxwell remained unbeaten on 25 off 17 in what happens to be his latest Test appearance against Bangladesh in September. He definitely showed good signs and was quoted in a report from cricket.com.au saying, “I’m not talking about the word ‘X-factor’ again. I feel like I’m starting ahead of the pack because I played the last Test and I think I was undefeated. Even if it was in a different country, I feel like I batted quite well and I showed some really good signs.”
“I think (selectors) made it pretty clear that they wanted the top six batter in the country and I want to put my hand up and be one of them. I have the ability to score quickly at stages but I think the way I’ve been playing recently, I’ve been more concentrating on just playing good cricket shots and making sure that I’m there for a longer period of time. Hopefully, that holds me in good stead,” Maxwell added.
Australia will indeed have a clearer picture by the end of third round of the ongoing Sheffield Shield and hopefully name their squad by the end of it. Maxwell has pressed his case for the Ashes berth in the middle-order with two back-to-back fifties for Victoria against South Australia. He is a game changer and well capable of turning the game on its head with his barrage of unorthodox yet innovative strokes, which are impossible for mere mortals to think of. With the series being played at home, Maxwell could turn out to be a fruitful investment.
Maxwell may not have some impressive numbers to back his selection, but there have been instances when a player is trusted on the basis of his potential and not the form and perception. He can be the X-factor and his selection would be worth a gamble. He did not have a great run in the ODI series against India, where Yuzvendra Chahal made him his bunny. But Test cricket at home is a different ball game altogether and Maxwell is yet to play a Test at home. Conditions in Australia should suit his style of play and provided that he will be batting at six, should just give him the liberty to go all guns blazing.
In the Sheffield Shield so far, Maxwell has scored 151 runs at 37.75, including two fifties. He would have surely found himself over a cushion had he converted any one of those or both fifties into a century. Talking about his red ball prowess, then one shouldn’t forget that Maxwell has an impressive First-Class record. In 53 games till date, Maxwell averages 39.28, which cannot be ignored. Also, Maxwell can bowl few handy overs and further provide rest to the frontline bowlers, which is also the primary job of a No.6 in the Test line-up. His presence will add an attacking option to the batting and Australia will unquestionably have some diversity.
Australian Test cricketer and Victorian skipper Peter Handscomb spoke highly about Maxwell’s performance and was quoted by smh.com.au saying, “He is looking good, he is looking really good. He is balanced and he is sticking to his game plan and that is really good, he is working hard and wants that spot and I see no reason why he can’t but he has to keep making runs. He has done a good job, but he needs to make runs next week.”
In shorter formats, bowling to a storming Maxwell is a bowler’s nightmare. He comes with a status and mind-boggling strokes and if given a log run, he can replicate the same magic in whites as well. David Warner, Virender Sehwag are classic examples of explosive batsmen converting into a solid Test cricketer. Maxwell’s potential is unbounded and his belligerent methodology can prove deadly in the Ashes. As of now, one thing is evident, if Maxwell is eyeing an Ashes spot, he needs a big score under his belt in the third round of Sheffield Shield against Tasmania.