Max impact: behind the mystery of Glenn Maxwell

Stuart Alford recalls handing a questionnaire to his players upon taking charge as captain-coach of South Belgrave Cricket Club, in Melbourne's Dandenong Ranges, early last decade. One question called for the boys and men to detail their ambitions for the season ahead.

"He was still in under-14s when I first came to the club," Alford said of a precocious teenager by the name of Glenn Maxwell.

"His first comments to me really stood out – 'I want to play some games in the ones this year'.

"I actually asked who Glenn was because I only had the sheet. This little kid stuck his hand up. I sort of baulked and went, 'You're fairly confident with your own abilities'. He just sat back and smiled at me. He said. 'I had a good year last year'."

"In saying that, he always had the correct attitude, if that makes sense. He was always looking at playing as high as he possibly could and he was ambitious. He probably wasn't quite ready at that time but, four games later, he played his first game in the ones."

Reminded of that moment, Maxwell told The Age over a coffee: "My brother [Daniel] was playing in the ones at that stage. He is nine years older than me. I always really wanted to play with him. I always really looked up to him. I just wanted to do everything he did.

"When we got to play with each other, it was awesome."

For all of his talent Glenn Maxwell has only played seven Tests.Credit:AAP

That determination remains with Maxwell today. Now 30, he has carried this through his grade, state and international postings, and it has helped him to secure a spot in the Australian XI for the World Cup in England, beginning next week. Yes, he was a part of the 2015 winning side on home soil, where he had an extraordinary strike rate of 182 and thumped his first international century. But as late as November his spot was in doubt, a point reinforced by captain – and best mate – Aaron Finch during the latter's post-match press conference in Hobart after a stinging series loss to South Africa.

Maxwell responded accordingly, and his form through the home one-day series against India and short-form tours of India and the United Arab Emirates has ensured this most talented of cricketers will be seen on the grandest of stages.

He has never been afraid to be himself, whether that be with bat in hand or when chatting off the field. That has, at times, split opinions of him. Those who know him well say he has matured, and Maxwell has acknowledged taking on the captaincy of the Melbourne Stars in the Big Bash League has meant his focus is no longer on just himself.

Maxwell's appointment was a surprise to some, but Stars chairman Eddie McGuire said he could not have been happier with the decision.

"We all know the talent he has got as a sportsman. But, to me, he has always been respectful. Respectful to the team, respectful to the team ethos, always available to do what's required, commercially for the organisation, and that is from young kids to major sponsors," McGuire said.

"I know in the wider cricket community a lot of people asked, 'Is he is a captain?' But I just think he is a guy who really understands the game, and the rhythms of the game. Particularly in the Twenty20 Big Bash, he was the ideal candidate. He did everything bar win the flag for us."

A STAR IS BORN

Doing "everything" is nothing knew to Maxwell, beginning with his days at South Belgrave when he was nicknamed "Aussie", and at primary school, when he was made to bat left-handed because he was so good on his natural side.

"When he was a very young boy, he was mucking around with the football and he reminded one of the blokes of [former St Kilda wingman' Austinn 'Aussie' Jones running down the wing in the 1997 grand final. He is a St Kilda supporter – so he was getting called 'Aussie'," South Belgrave president Trevor Miller recalled.

Maxwell's feats at South Belgrave – where he remains the leading junior run scorer (2997 runs) in the club's history and his father Neil has been a tireless hand – remain the stuff of legend.

It was quite ludicrous to actually have a 15-year-old as your best cricketer.

Aged 15, he posted his maiden senior century, against Ferntree Gully Footballers. Many from the rival side still claim that as their own moment of fame. Not only were there fireworks with the bat, Maxwell claimed six wickets with his off-spin.

"That's when I understood how special he was," Alford said.

"He was only 15, but it was quite ludicrous to actually have a 15-year-old as your best cricketer. It was just insane. To be honest, he was just a loveable kid."

Maxwell and older brother Daniel, a leggie, formed a formidable spinning act. Although Maxwell was initially a medium-pacer with some speed, Alford had him turn to off-spin, a skill that all these years later will help balance Australia's attack in their World Cup defence.

Glenn Maxwell spin will be an important part of Australia’s World Cup attack.Credit:AAP

"At training one night, he bowled this off-spin at me and he turned 'em at right angles. I said to him, 'If we have a second innings on the weekend, if we can bowl Upper Gully out and have another go, I will give you a bowl'. From memory he bowled two or three overs, and took 3-1, bowling off-spin," Alford said.

Then there was the time in the under-16s when he found himself on 64 – and keen to reach three figures. So what did he do? With his father Neil watching on as square-leg umpire, he thumped six sixes, acknowledged the century, and then had to retire per junior rules.

"I hit the first three [sixes] and then thought I'll just keep going and then played three ridiculous shots off the next three balls," Maxwell said.

"I just got in a zone and smacked them. There was a little story in The Age the next day."

Maxwell's batting can be scintillating, even breathtaking, and his technical analysis of his strokes are second to none. Just ask him about his weight transfer on to his back foot for his "hockey-type" straight drives. Batting guru Trent Woodhill rates him almost on a par with South African great A.B. de Villiers in terms of his "natural swing".

However he can also frustrate, particularly if an audacious ramp or reverse sweep does not come off. Under Justin Langer, there are signs he has curbed this, having been given a more detailed plan of what the team expects from him at No. 5 or No. 6.

"It's more about playing a role that is best suited to the situation – it's about being really open-minded, being prepared for whatever you are faced with," Maxwell said.

"I think that has always been a difficult thing for myself. I never really knew how to prepare for different positions, but now I have a really solid grasp on my technique and a grasp of the role. I am pretty calm before I can go into a match. I can bat to whatever gets thrown my way."

Maxwell has had issues with Steve Smith, when the latter was captain, had a run-in with David Saker, when the latter was coach of Victoria, and had a so-called feud with former Victorian teammate Matthew Wade, whom Maxwell had been frustrated to bat behind. He can be what some endearingly would say is a little "loose" with his comments. But there are signs of maturity.

Captaincy of the Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League, last summer of the Stars and as a lieutenant of Finch have seen to this. Life in the IPL is particularly tough, where cultural and language barriers and intense pressure can make life difficult. He said he intended to continue to help Finch in England.

"If I can take one or two jobs away from him to let him concentrate on what a captain needs to concentrate on, not worry about the little things – the right fielders in the right places – real simple jobs he shouldn't worry about, then I will," he said.

HARSHLY JUDGED

The South Belgrave crew say he has been misunderstood. They point to the help has given off the field, donating clothing and gear to the club he lived across the road from.

"It's great to see him and he is great for kids. There was one time, a few years ago, he had come over to visit his mum and dad and he had heard the cricket over the road," Miller said.

"It was actually a grand final for one of the under-age groups, it might have been the under-12s or the under-13s. He was able to come over and present them with their premiership medals."

Then there is the piece of memorabilia from his first and only Test century – the bat he broke early on day two against India in Ranchi in 2017.

"We do have the greatest bit of memorabilia you have ever seen. When he made his century, he had the bat that broke. We have that bat framed with his shirt," Miller said.

Maxwell batting.Credit:AAP

"It's framed and up in the rooms. It was very nice of him to donate that."

Alford maintains Maxwell has been treated harshly within the cricket community, and cannot believe he has played only seven Tests – the last in Bangladesh in 2017.

"I don't think they understand him. I think the public perception of Glenn isn't right. I think he gets judged pretty harshly because of his ability," he said.

"If they actually sat back and realised that 90 per cent of the time he is following team instructions, and sometimes that is to the detriment of himself, I think that the perception of Glenn would be a hell of a lot different if they understood that. He is team oriented.

"If the coach tells him to go out to try and hit sixes every ball, he will do that, and, unfortunately, that has probably been to his detriment. I think he is a better long-form cricketer than he is a short-form cricketer, to be honest."

Maxwell averages 26.07 in seven Tests, all of which have been played overseas. In 100 ODIs heading into the World Cup, it's 33.33 at a strike-rate of 121.95, while it's 34.4 with a strike rate of 158.2 in 59 Twenty20 internationals.

The recent contract meetings with Langer, selection chairman Trevor Hohns and Belinda Clark, the interim high-performance chief, gave players the chance to outline their hopes for the year ahead.

Maxwell said there was no reason for him to reinforce his desire to return to the Test side – it went without saying.

"I would feel like I would have unfinished business if my career ended without any more Test cricket," he said.

"I would feel like I had plenty more left in the shed to give. To think that I scored a hundred only a couple of Tests ago, it still burns pretty deep that I want to get out there and wear the baggy green again. I will be just doing everything I can to do that again."

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