Make no mistake, the Big Show is like no other in town. We spoke to the man himself to find out just how he does things he does.
“I wouldn’t say a trailblazer,” Maxwell, an ICC Live the Game ambassador, laughed when the notion was put to him. “It’s been nice to have a bit of T20 success around the world and be able to play in these different leagues and be recognised as an overseas player in a lot of these comps.”
Whether or not he sees himself as a trailblazer, what is undeniable is that he has left as firm an imprint as any on the T20 game. Maxwell is a child of the format, with the timing of his career syncing up sweetly with the advent of the third format. It was in a T20 for Victoria – when the Big Bash League was still state-based – that he made his professional debut, five years on from the first men’s T20I.
“It’s certainly come at a good time in my career. When I was just starting T20 cricket was just starting in Australia and I’ve been very fortunate to be a beneficiary of that. I feel very fortunate to be playing the game that I do.”
Since those formative first steps for Victoria, he’s gone on to dominate on the international stage for Australia, in the BBL for the Melbourne Stars, the IPL for a variety of teams, and of course in the T20 and Cricket World Cups.
The free-spirited Australian boasts a strike rate of 160 at the T20 World Cup – a number bettered only by West Indies great Daren Sammy (164.12). But what sets Maxwell apart is that his incredible strike rate has not come at the expense of consistency. His tournament average of 29.33 is comfortably the best of any of the four players with a strike rate better than 150.
It’s a set of numbers that speaks to the type of player Maxwell is. A man who has pushed the boundaries of what is possible in cricket, consistently pulling off things both with bat in hand and on the field that few have ever thought possible.
From reverse sweeps to lap shots to scoops to shots we still don’t have names for, Maxwell has done them all, taking the term ‘360 degree batter’ to new heights, employing his trademark style across all three formats. And as ad-hoc as they may seem, there is plenty of thought that goes into them.
Case in point, his incredible six over backward point against Afghanistan at the 2015 World Cup. You know the one, a hunched over Maxwell reverse swatting an attempted wide yorker from Shapoor Zadran over the ropes at Manuka Oval.
It might just have looked like a man capitalising on the comfortable position Australia had found themselves in – and he was – but there was plenty of thought behind it. That much is evident in how well he can recall the moment.
“I remember this day,” he said as he watched the replay. “I was pretty fortunate when I came in. You look at the score there, two for 330 and there’s still seven overs left. I’ve come in probably four or five overs before this, free license to play.
“He was just bowling wide yorker to a really big boundary into the wind, and just bowling wide. With third man still up I thought I could potentially get the ball over short third man. I didn’t expect it to go for six. I just hit it pretty crisp and just I suppose got the right angle of the bat.
“It doesn’t always happen like that, sometimes you swing too early, hit the back of the bat and it hits you in the face or you completely miss it.
“I’ve backed my hand speed to generally try and catch up to the ball. I think that is probably the toughest shot I’ve ever hit.”
While he concedes the level of success of the shot had an element of luck to it, it’s luck he has made for himself.
“I do practice that a fair bit, especially when the ball is away from me, it is easier to practice so you don’t get hit as often.”
Three matches later, Maxwell pulled out another party trick to help Australia cross the line in a tense quarter-final against Pakistan as preparation met improvisation. With Wahab Riaz bowling one of the Cricket World Cup’s most iconic – and unrewarded – spells of recent memory, Maxwell managed what commentator Brendon Julian described at the time as ‘the walkaway cut-shot pull’.
“That was ridiculous pace bowling from Wahab. He was bowling absolute rockets,” Maxwell recalled of the boundary that took Australia within 39 runs of a spot in the semi-finals. “We didn’t have many to get at this stage, I was trying to get the game done as quickly as possible.
“I tried to give myself some room because he had the legside pretty heavily stacked in case I wanted to try and pull him, which was never going to happen because he was bowling rockets.
“I was looking to try and hit that through point in front and I just got stuck and had to try and squeeze it off my chest and hit it behind point.
“It doesn’t look great in slow motion but when I pulled my hands in I actually hit it sort of where I wanted to. I didn’t think it was going to go for four, I just tried to keep it away from point.”
Maxwell finished that tournament with an average of 64.80 and a strike rate of 182.02. Special by anyone’s standards – even a player like Maxwell, whose ODI career strike rate of 125.43 is the second-best of all-time.
The Victorian backed up his mammoth of a 2015 Cricket World Cup campaign with a more modest T20 World Cup 2016 in India, making 109 runs at 27.25 with a strike rate of 129.76. Still, he was one of Australia’s better performers, finishing as the side’s second-highest run-scorer, playing one of the more eye-catching shots of the tournament along the way.
Taking on India’s almost always accurate Ravindra Jadeja in what was a quarter-final in everything but name, Maxwell reversed his stance at the very last moment to switch hit the rarest of full tosses over the midwicket ropes at Mohali. He didn’t go into the shot expecting a full toss, nor had he expected to play it for six. Rather, it started as a tactical move to try and force India to change their field.
Preparation meets innovation meets luck.
“There was a big boundary on the legside. There was just enough hold from the wicket that I found it hard to go across the line to him. Before this ball he had actually bowled a pretty good length. I thought if I could get around and go left-handed, if I could get it behind point and push that fielder a little bit more, then I could hit a cover drive.
“But when I was switched and it was a full toss I threw the kitchen sink at it. Just tried to get it up and hit it as far as I could in front of point. I think deep point was just behind at that point. I was just looking to whack it opposite-handed.
“I was pretty lucky that was the first time he really missed. That’s the other thing, you have got to get lucky when you do stuff like this. If he had bowled a leg-stump yorker I probably would have just defended it and it wouldn’t have looked as good or I could have been bowled trying to do the same thing.”
Of course, Maxwell’s eye-catching exploits aren’t limited to the bat. His fielding highlights are up there with the best. Indian fans will remember his direct hit to run out MS Dhoni in the semi-finals of the 2015 Cricket World Cup, and Pakistan fans the run out of Sarfaraz Ahmed in 2019. His finest moment in the field at an ICC event however is one he gets no credit for in the record books. Jogging back to cow corner at Lord’s after Chris Woakes connected sweetly with a slog over the leg-side, Maxwell collected the catch as he hopped backwards before nonchalantly lobbing it back to captain Aaron Finch to complete the dismissal.
In retrospect, it’s a catch he believes he could have completed himself, but a decision he is confident was the right one.
“In that position I could definitely take the catch myself by throwing it up and coming back in. But when you’re in that position, the safest thing to do when you’re momentum is going out, you know where the boundary is, just get it safe.
“Don’t make it more difficult than it has to be and try and be the hero yourself and get back in. Palm it off to a teammate. I’d love to take the stat but when you’re playing for your country do the right thing and make sure it’s out.”
Just like those shots he plays with so much ease, it’s a skill that has taken plenty of work to perfect.
“We practice that a fair bit as players. We put a boundary line for training and work about having awareness of where it is without actually looking at it. To be running at an angle and know how many metres you’ve got to the rope is a good thing to practice. It’s a thing that guys that are fielding on the boundary in T20 cricket need to know. It can be the difference between you rolling your ankle or making a good boundary save."
Like most experts of the relay catch, he’d like the addition of an assist statistic.
“I’ve just hand-balled Finchy his easiest catch in World Cup cricket history. I wish you got more credit for that as a fielder - the ones that you hand-ball off and make sure that the other fielder safely takes.
“It should go down as a half a catch each. That would be good.”
Now 32 years old, Maxwell is one of the veterans of Australia’s set-up. It’s a position that comes with its share of responsibilities as well as questions over his future. In his mind, however, the finishing line is nowhere near in sight.
Right now, and as it has always been for him, it’s about finding out just how far he can take himself and the game of cricket.
“It is a bit strange. I still feel like a young player at heart and I’m always striving to show my worth in whatever team I’m playing for, I’m always trying to get better.
“I certainly don’t feel like I’m on the wrong side of 30 which I am. I feel like I’ve got so much cricket left in me to prove that I can win big games for Australia and win big games for other teams as well so I feel like there’s still so much cricket left in me.”
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