In mid-January Glenn Maxwell showed his genius when carving out a match-winning 96 at the MCG against India. The months ahead included the international spotlight at the World T20 and he was even-money to then feature in Sri Lanka across all formats. Objectively, his ambition was sound.
But fast-forward half a year and in an alternate reality a couple of weeks ago he was dismissed for a duck by the kids in the National Development Squad when playing for Australia A. Between times, his one-day international form saw him go from talisman to forgotten man, dropped altogether for the 50-over Sri Lanka series. He will not be in South Africa next month either.
Highest T20I team scores
- Australia: 3 for 263 v Sri Lanka in Kandy – Sept 6, 2016
- Sri Lanka: 6 for 260 v Kenya in Jo’burg – Sept 14, 2007
- Australia: 6 for 248 v England in Southampton – Aug 29, 2013
- West Indies: 6 for 245 v India at Lauderhill – Aug 27, 2016
- India: 4 for 244 v West Indies at Lauderhill – Aug 27, 2016
This context made Maxwell’s ridiculous unbeaten 145 — leading Australia to a new world-record 3 for 263 and an 85-run win in the first of two Twenty20s against Sri Lanka — all the more exhilarating. He admits it has “hurt” — the performances, the dropping, the overlooking. Especially the latter; he craves the chance to wear that baggy green again. It is vulnerability that is very relatable and very human, channelled into something on Tuesday night (AEST) that was very joyous.
It is nights like this where Maxwell also helps dispels enduring myths that in the shortest version of the game all sloggers are more or less equal. Instead, he gives a window into the future of the sport like few others. And like all pioneers, he is a disruptor too; the type you cannot look away from. He makes you gasp then snort. When he is in you watch; all else can wait.
The genesis of his Kandy explosion was when his mate Aaron Finch broke a finger in the final ODI. There was now a vacancy at the top of the list without a perfect replacement. Maxwell consulted batting coach Greg Blewett to lodge his interest, and captain David Warner was sold.
By the time it was over, Maxwell had the second highest T20 international score ever (trailing only Finch) and the top score for someone opening in the format for the first time; while Australia had the highest team score and tied for the highest tally in any T20 fixture.
He would share the adventure with three others, which neatly segmented the innings. Walking out with Warner was not announced not anticipated. Nor was him patting the first couple of balls back to tweaker Sachithra Senanayake (1 for 49). But he was away the over after with an inside-out loft over cover. It became a pattern.
After the captain crunched four consecutive boundaries, Maxwell began a dance with Suranga Lakmal (0 for 51). The batsman would get as far across to the leg side as possible to make room to foist him over cover, the bowler would trail him. With the field up, it was freedom Maxwell had not experienced for Australia, used to instead owning the middle overs.
Highest individual T20I scores
- Aaron Finch (Aus): 156 v England in Southampton – Aug 29, 2013
- Glenn Maxwell (Aus): 145* v Sri Lanka in Kandy – Sept 6, 2016
- Shane Watson (Aus): 124* v India in Sydney – Jan 31, 2016
- Brendon McCullum (NZ): 123 v Bangladesh in Kandy – Sept 21, 2012
- Babar Hayat (HK): 122 v Oman in Fatullah – Feb 19, 2016
Now set, he thrice reverse-swept Senanayake, netting 10 runs in the process, while a new quick, Thisara Perera (1 for 58), replaced Lakmal but the outcome was the same, going twice over cover as well.
At this stage, with 36 from 18 balls, Maxwell could have been dismissed and it was still job done as the power play had earned 1 for 73 with only Warner (28) lost in the process. But Maxwell was hungry for quite a few more.
Now Usman Khawaja was with him — another man with a complicated 2016 arc. After taking the briefest moment to compose themselves, it began again. Maxwell’s half-century came in 27 balls when depositing Kasun Rajitha’s (0 for 46) medium pace into the crowd at long-on before flicking him over square leg for six more.
After a 97-run stand — of which Khawaja contributed 36 in 22 balls, including a straight six of his own — he would exit, holing out to mid-off.
Travis Head’s turn, as Maxwell saw the board: “I looked up and there were eight overs to go an I was on 80 or 90,” he recalled.
That was when it became apparent this was a time to go record-chasing big, and when Head cleared the front pad to his second ball to give his own gift to the crowd, the established man had a likely type with him for the final push.
Meanwhile, when living with Finch, Maxwell had been told “about 300 times”, of the former’s 156 — the current record. There was time for that too.
With seam back through Perera, Maxwell returned to type, blasting him through cover and reverse sweeping to within two of a century. He would not wait any longer, skying his next ball — a no-ball full toss — for two. It was his first legitimate mis-hit, but it did not matter: 100 in 49 balls his prize.
A six over cover was far nicer, as were three more big ones in the 16th over in consecutive balls, all over long-on despite all coming at different trajectories.
By this stage he was utterly unstoppable as the score hit 218 with three overs to go, Sri Lanka’s record of 260 was ripe for picking. More again after Rajitha’s pair of well-executed full balls both ended up beyond the rope anyway; one for each batsmen.
Maxwell would add only three more in the final two overs after Head got on a roll of his own. In the final over he would take four, four, six — from fine leg to long-off to long-on — passing 250, then a 100-run stand, then the record. When Head picked out mid-wicket to the final ball of the innings, their partnership ended at 109 from 40 balls, or 16.4 runs per over if you prefer.
Sri Lanka’s chase played out predictably, losing wickets at regular intervals early while trying to make some dent in the score, before the contest quickly lost its sting. Of note, Mitchell Starc (3 for 26) bowled retiring Tillakaratne Dilshan in the first over just for something entirely out of the ordinary, while Scott Boland (3 for 26) was effective at either end of the innings.
But the night belonged to Maxwell.
Instructively, he was measured when asked if his fondness for sub-continental white-ball runs should put him in the frame for Indian Tests in February, explaining how different the task is with men around the bat. And besides, he does not want to be pigeon-holed as a regional specialist.
“I know people go, ‘he’s made runs in subcontinent in the one-day format, surely he can play in the red ball form over there’, but it is not the same,” he said.
“All my red-ball runs have been made in either England or Australia so on the back of that I want to be picked in Australia.”
This is all a long way from Kandy, but if Maxwell can build from this into the performances he wished for earlier in the year, it will be a conversation that begins again sooner or later.
For someone this good, that much seems inevitable.