He may not have played Test cricket since 2017 or a first-classmatch since 2019, but with tours of Sri Lanka and India coming in the next nine months, it’s now the time to bring Glenn Maxwell back to Test cricket.
The away trip to India at the beginning in 2023 will be the toughest test this side is to face during this World Test Championship cycle. And in many ways this two-Test tour to Sri Lanka is a warm up to the bigger India series.
Only two current Australians who have scored centuries in India, Steve Smith who has three of them and Glenn Maxwell who scored 104 in Ranchi back in 2017, for this reason Maxwell needs to come back to the Test side on spinning pitches.
While Maxwell's overall numbers aren’t great at all averaging 26.07 with the bat and 42.62 with the ball these have come from only seven matches. Seven games are barely enough to judge an entire player’s career on especially when Maxwell is essentially a subcontinent specialist.
Australia’s numbers over the last decade would suggest that Maxwell is actually slightly above average in term of run-scoring in the spinning conditions of Sri Lanka and India. In Sri Lanka, the Aussie’s batting average is only 19.86 compared to India where it’s 26.26. Maxwell is well above the average in Sri Lanka and almost right on the Indian average.
There is no doubt his talent is well above those numbers ass well. He is one of only three Australian batters to have centuries in all formats, the other two being David Warner and Shane Watson.
By no means am I suggesting Maxwell should be batting three and opening the bowling, but he could play a handy role batting down at number seven and offering a different kind of off spin to that of Nathan Lyon.
While Nathan Lyon spins over the top of the ball largely relying on top spin rather than side spin, which admittedly brings better results on spinning wickets. Maxwell spins the ball out the side of the hand with a rounder arm. If we look back to England’s series against India early in 2021 or the West Indies in Sri Lanka, it is this side spin with arm balls that takes wickets.
The side spin allows for a mix between big spinning balls that beat the bat on the outside to a left hander or can attack the stumps to a right hander. But almost more importantly if the ball doesn’t hit the seam and hits the smoother face of the ball it will go on straight and it’s this natural variation that takes wickets.
This kind of faster spin bowling with natural variation is how India’s Axar Patel and Sri Lanka’s Lasith Embuldeniya are so successful in Test cricket. Axar in particular has dominated over the last 12 months taking 39 wickets from six Tests at an average of only 12.43.
Is Maxwell going to be as good as these two? Obviously not but he does offer something with the ball that Nathan Lyon doesn’t or can’t. Australia does have some full-time spin options in Ashton Agar and Mitchell Swepson but importantly they don’t offer the same things Glenn Maxwell can.
Mitchell Swepson was disappointing in Pakistan taking only two wickets for 266 runs in his two Tests. Ashton Agar’s Test bowling record is pretty much similar to Maxwell taking nine wickets from four matches at 45.55. Neither of these two are the answer, especially when you look at Australia’s batting issues in previous Sri Lanka tours.
On the previous tour of Sri Lanka back in 2016 the Aussies only passed 200 twice with one of those scores being 203. Shaun Marsh came in to score a century in the last match on what was a flat track but apart from that it was once again Steve Smith being the only decent batter, he averaged 41.16 in that series. The next best averages were 27 by Mitch Marsh and David Warner.
Glenn Maxwell is clearly one of Australia’s best batters against spin, he has demonstrated that by his domination of the IPL as well as quality white ball performances all around the world.
Maxwell has also demonstrated in recent years he can bat against the best spinners in the world. He averages 91 against the world number one spin bowler Ravichandran Ashwin in T20 cricket, albeit he averages only 11.3 against Ashwin in Test cricket.
While his Test numbers aren’t all that impressive he has shown glimpses of excellence, but where he really shines is his first-class record. More than 4000 runs at an average of just under fourth and amazingly a strike rate of 73, on those numbers alone he would go past many in the Australia A side but yet he hasn’t got a look in since 2017. In his last first-class innings, he managed 57 from 76 balls against an extraordinarily strong WA bowling attack.
Importantly Australia's chief selector George Bailey didn't rule out Maxwell returning to the Test team.
"We have reduced squad sizes so we want to get back to the flexibility so if we want to the squad Glenn or another play we can do that on an as needs basis, rather than 'crystal ball' the need and announcing a squad of 20 which we had to do over the last few years.
"That's great for all the players so when we do call someone into the squad they have a reasonable chance of playing. But Glenn has had some red ball success in these type of conditions. I'm looking forward to seeing him play a good chunk of cricket for Australia and if he plays the house down then there will be opportunities."
Glenn Maxwell just provides so much utility in spinning conditions, he reads the spinning ball better than most, can take the game away quickly with the bat and provides handy overs with the ball. He is such a versatile option as shown by him giving the opening batting job in Shane Watson's only Test as Australian captain, he also provides leadership and some exceptional fielding.
Essentially he would need to take the position of Mitch Swepson in the eleven with him moving to number seven with Carey at number eight.
A bowling line up of Mitch Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Cameron Green, Glenn Maxwell and Marnus Labuschagne should be more than enough against Sri Lanka especially when Australia needs to focus on putting runs on the board.