By R Kaushik in Mirpur
Fresh off a 33-ball 74, Australia batsman says he thrives under pressure and was confident of taking on Pakistan’s spinners
Last November, he made the fastest One-Day International half-century by an Australian, in only 18 deliveries, against India at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. On Sunday (March 23), he made the joint third fastest fifty in Twenty20 Internationals, also in 18 deliveries, against Pakistan at the Sher-e-Bangla Stadium to nearly enable Australia to pull off a sensational win in a stiff run chase in the ICC World Twenty20 2014.
It was Maxwell’s first half-century in T20I cricket, comfortably bettering his previous highest of 27. “Ya, tripled it, didn’t I?” he grinned sheepishly. “It was pretty embarrassing before that.” By the time he was dismissed, he had smashed 74 off 33 with seven fours and six sixes, a brutal exhibition of ball-striking as he pulverised Saeed Ajmal and Shahid Afridi.
Maxwell strikes at 124.2 per 100 balls faced over 24 ODIs, while his strike rate in 18 T20Is is a spectacular 157.53. On Sunday, he showed that he could respond under pressure too; he walked out at the end of the first over with Australia on 8 for 2 in their chase of 192 for victory. For the next 45 minutes, he unleashed such mayhem that Pakistan as good as gave up the ghost, only finding a second wind when Maxwell was caught in the deep off Afridi to roar back and complete a 16-run win.
These days, Maxwell is pencilled in at No. 4 in the batting order, a position he relishes because it allows him to build an innings as per the demands of the situation. Batting at two-drop has given him a greater sense of responsibility, he admitted. “When you are out there in the first over and there’s still only two men outside the circle, it’s a lot easier to score,” said Maxwell. “The wicket was skidding a little bit at the time I went out there and by the end, it was actually starting to turn a bit. It was nice to watch the wicket reversal, it made it easy for me because I had been out there for a while. For the guys that came in, it was probably a little bit more difficult because the ball was starting to spin a little bit more and play a few more tricks. When I went in, we didn’t really have a choice when we were chasing 11 an over. I went out there and Finchy (Aaron Finch, with whom he put on 118 in just 65 deliveries for the third wicket) said alright, let’s just keep trying, let’s keep trying to turn it over, so didn’t really have a choice when I got out there.”
There are many who can buckle under pressure, real or imagined, but Maxwell falls in that minority category that thrives when the odds are stacked against them. “I do enjoy that. My first series against Pakistan, that probably helped tonight, knowing that I can face their spinners and I was confident I could score against them. Having Finchy at the other end was quite calming as well, someone who I live with and I spend a lot of time with. So it was very calming having him at the other end.”
That first series against Pakistan was in August 2012 in the UAE, when Maxwell made 38, 28 and 56 not out against an attack that included Ajmal, Afridi and Mohammad Hafeez. Ajmal is clearly the leader of the Pakistani attack and Maxwell played him with reasonable comfort, though he said he hadn’t done any great deal of homework to neutralise the off-spinner’s threat.
“I watch other games on TV and watch how other people play him. But it’s not like I go to bed at night and think about it non-stop,” he said. “I was actually at the non-striker’s end at the start there, picking up a few cues and talking to Finchy and he was picking him up as well. It was nice to pick up a few things that we can take. If we meet them in the finals again, we will have that advantage.”
Australia still has West Indies, Bangladesh and India ahead of it in Group 2 of the Super 10s, and Maxwell said the team would have to pull itself up as it eyed a semifinal spot. “We’ve just to go forwards from now on, hit the training track a bit harder, probably work on our fielding. Our fielding wasn’t good enough tonight. We will be hitting that hard, and try and rectify all the mistakes that we made tonight.”
Brad Hogg, the 43-year-old left-arm Chinaman bowler, played as the lone specialist spinner. Hogg had a pretty ordinary outing, and a case could be made for James Muirhead, the 20-year-old leg-spinner, either as replacement for or as support to the older man. “He is very confident, he is up for the challenge,” Maxwell said of Muirhead, who has taken four wickets in three previous T20Is. “He wants the big scalps. Hopefully he gets a crack and hopefully he can show how good he is because he is a very good talent. He spins the ball miles and he has got all the tricks as well. He’s a player to look out for. If he gets a game, I am sure he will give a good account of himself.”