Patrick Noone looks at how Australia’s number three lit up Adelaide Oval in the first T20I.
In cricket, and indeed all sports, there are countless examples of players just fancying it on a certain ground or against a certain opposition. Circumstances which, for whatever reason, bring the best out of a player.
For Glenn Maxwell, there is something about Sri Lanka. They are the opposition against whom he scored a 53-ball century in the 2015 World Cup and a 65-ball 145* in a T20I series the following year. Two of Maxwell’s five international centuries have been against Sri Lanka and his average against them across all formats is nearly twice the next highest in the list.
Today, Maxwell added another eye-catching innings to his collection of Sri Lankan assaults. It might not have been a hundred this time, but there was no shortage of fireworks in the 28 balls he faced.
David Warner and Aaron Finch laid the platform for Maxwell, putting on 122 for the first wicket, giving him licence to tee off from ball one. In reality, he gave himself two balls to get himself in, playing a rotating shot to each of the first two he faced, before attacking 25 of his remaining 26.
Maxwell had faced 17 legitimate deliveries before Sri Lanka were finally able to bowl a dot ball to him and his full array of funky shots was on show. There were three switch hits, three scoops (each of which went for four), a slog sweep for six and, perhaps the best shot of all, a bottom-handed flick that sailed over the midwicket boundary for another maximum.
The mid-wicket region was Maxwell’s favourite area, with 40% of his runs coming through that area of the pitch. That’s no surprise at a ground with dimensions like Adelaide Oval – the short square boundaries are obvious areas for aggressive batsmen like Maxwell to choose to clear the ropes.
However, what is a surprise is the 13 runs that Maxwell scored through third man. Every other batsman in the match only scored 10 runs between them in that area. Only one of the four balls Maxwell played to third man was a false shot; the other three were deliberately played there as part of an actual plan.
It’s a plan that makes no sense. The straight boundaries at Adelaide Oval are among the longest in world cricket, yet Maxwell chose to target the one behind him. The outrageousness of this tactic was most starkly borne out in the 19th over when a full toss from Nuwan Pradeep was flicked through the gap between the wicket-keeper and second slip for four.
It was a delivery that Maxwell could easily punched through the off-side; he might well have been able to score a boundary through cover, yet he opted to play a shot so difficult to execute that it forced him to tumble over backwards as the ball ran along the outfield to the boundary rope. That’s the genius of players like Maxwell though – they embrace the daring and the innovation to attempt a shot like that, and then they have the skill to pull it off.
The run tally might have been the same if he’d scored a boundary through cover, but the effect such a shot has on a fielding side is immeasurable. Deliberately targeting the longest boundary and still scoring four sends a message to the fielding captain that anything is possible, and that’s certainly how it looked for Maxwell today.
Even his dismissal was unorthodox. A leg-stump half-volley from Dasun Shanaka that Maxwell tried to flick away, only to somehow inadvertently nutmeg himself with an inside edge that carried to Kusal Perera behind the stumps.
It was a strangely fitting way to end an innings that was as bizarre as it was thrilling. Warner will rightly take most of the headlines for his century, but it was Maxwell who elevated Australia from a good total to an impossible one for Sri Lanka to chase. It was a bold move to promote him to three, but it paid off to such an extent that Australia can surely not afford to consider keeping Maxwell down the order, particularly when the openers make a good start.
Maxwell is one of the few players in world cricket – and certainly the only one in the current Australia setup – capable of playing an innings of this ilk. He’s the one player who possesses that extra level of audacity and invention that the very best T20 batsmen have and when he comes off, there are few sights in cricket quite as exciting.
Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.