India v Australia, 3rd Test, Ranchi, 1st day March 16, 2017

The weirdness of Maxwell's proper Test innings

On a pitch most suited for him on this tour, David Warner, the T20-specialist-turned-Test star, got his eye in and then played a wasteful shot. The grown-up knock came from another T20 specialist, instead: Glenn Maxwell
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Play 02:23
Kalra: Surprising performance from Maxwell

David Warner smote a full wide ball. The cover fielder didn't turn around, but simply shrugged. It was just another shot of dominant perfection for the T20 specialist turned Test star. Forget the colour of the pitch, and you could be in Adelaide. Warner trusts bounce, hits through the line, collects a boundary, fielders lament.

But this is Ranchi and even though Warner has this reputation as a destroyer of worlds, those worlds are only destroyed when they tour Australia. Warner's away record has always been bad, but as he picks up hundreds in Australia like ordinary people grab a loaf of bread, his away record looks even more horrible.

He might make hundreds in a session at home but overseas, he barely makes them in any amount of time. It's easy to say he has a problem with R Ashwin, but his problem of a poor record outside Australia seems more pressing.

Warner's one grand tour was South Africa in 2013-14, where the conditions are most Australia-like. It was there that he made three of his four hundreds away from Australia. But, in the first Test, where he made 115 in the second innings, he was dropped three times. In the second Test, he was dropped during his half-centuries in both innings. By the end of the tour, Warner was the runaway bus of destruction but he may not have felt that freedom had South Africa not gifted him so many chances early in the series. Warner's only other overseas hundred was in Dubai.

Overall, he has 18 Test hundreds and 5378 runs. Of those, four centuries and 2121 runs have come in 30 away Tests, only three fewer than the matches he has played at home. His average at home is 59 and his average away is 37. One more ropey overseas tour and another monster series at home, and his average in Australia could be double his away average.

Play 01:27
David Warner: A home bully in Tests?

Today - on a pitch which was probably the most suitable for him in India - with his eye in and some fours already scored, Warner received a full toss from Ravindra Jadeja. Had this full toss been delivered in Australia, Warner would have cleared a padded boundary triangle, a sponsored fence, a fair few rows, and maybe even a grandstand. The ball would have been returned with bits of Jadeja's soul implanted on it. Instead, Warner got lost at where he wanted to hit it. He tried to be cute, something he's anything but in Australia, and spooned a catch back to the bowler.

And when Warner was out, it changed the way Australia were going about the day. The fun-time, happy-slapping, quick-fire start became a slog. Australia play best when they are in the slipstream of the Warner battleship after it has already broken the bones and hearts of the bowlers.

Instead, Smith had to play the kind of innings he did, and another player who was seemingly birthed for only T20 stepped up.

When Warner was first picked, he was seen as a risk worth taking despite the fact he had barely played first-class cricket and liked to flat-bat Dale Steyn over his head using an onomatopoeia named bat. Glenn Maxwell was seen as a risk worth taking when Australia were going to a series they were probably going to lose anyway. Hell, maybe Maxwell's offspin will do ok; he can field bloody well too and, I know, let's chuck him up the order, or bat him over here, now somewhere new. Crazy shit happens in India, man, maybe Maxy can be part of that. Or I know, let's just have fun with it.

When you peel back Maxwell's 17 layers of manic compulsion, there is a player with an incredible eye and a decent, basic technique, who was never truly being given a proper run in the side

Because Maxwell is the L'enfant terrible of Australian batting, a codeless enigma, a whoopee cushion of self-destruction. A reverse sweep as his defence, his mouth as potent as his straight drive, he's million-dollar Maxy, the franchise wunderkind. Why even bother giving him a home Test? Why even think about batting him in the same place twice? Why even pressure his state to use him regularly up the order? He's not the same kind of T20 guy Warner was. He's wilder, like Warner on LSD riding a flying technicolour liger singing Tom Waits' songs in falsetto.

No, Glenn, you aren't made for this serious stuff.

Sure you could argue that his first-class average is higher than Rob Quiney, Callum Ferguson, Nic Maddinson and Andrew McDonald. Let us not even mention Mitchell Marsh's first-class average here for fear of embarrassing it further. We could shout that Maxwell has played some of his greatest innings when Victoria needed it most, like when he went out to bat when the score was 9 for 6 and made a 127 out of 186. Or we could point out that he averaged over 50 last season in the Shield.

Maxwell, however, is a weird batsman. When he plays a forward-defence, there is a part of you that thinks he's a small boy imitating his heroes rather than a player worthy of a Test spot. It doesn't matter that when you peel back his 17 layers of manic compulsion, there is a player with an incredible eye and a decent, basic technique, who was never truly being given a proper run in the side. Because then you remember the other stuff.

In Ranchi, there was the cut shot Maxwell played with splayed legs, where he seemed to be trying to hit with his groin more than the bat. The straight-bat late cut was the kind of shot that you play on computer cricket games when the game can't compute the length of the ball correctly. But they were glitches in what was an otherwise sane innings.

David Warner is the maverick genius that Australia decided to gamble on, but one who's asterisk when traveling is starting to dwarf the size of his talent © AFP

There were 56 deliveries before there was even a boundary. Sure there were a few close-ish lbw shouts in there, a near run-out, and an inside edge that could have gone to hand. But mostly it was just a professional innings: he took the singles on offer, he supported his captain, and he looked like he was batting for a long time, not a good time.

When he finally dusted off the lofted straight drive, he stood in his crease and hit a controlled safe shot. His first six was because Jadeja had virtually begged him to slog a long hop away to an empty boundary. His second six was to the left-arm spinner from outside leg stump and he still looked in control.

It was 121 balls before Maxwell even tried a reverse sweep, a shot he usually plays when he is walking out on the field. It is his oxygen, he uses it to breathe underwater, and now he had waited to face more balls than he ever had for Australia in any form of cricket before bringing out his pet trick.

All this as he put on a grown-up partnership of 159 with his captain, when his team needed it, when a failure could have ended Australia's chances of winning this series. In a lifetime of Glenn Maxwell weirdness, him batting like a proper Test player was perhaps the weirdest. It was the kind of overseas innings Warner would love to make more of, a lot more of.

Warner is the maverick genius that Australia decided to gamble on, but one who's asterisk when traveling is starting to dwarf the size of his talent. Maxwell is the maverick genius they turned towards after they had already crapped the bed and burnt the house down, but one who batted today like a Test cricketer.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Peter on March 19, 2017, 0:35 GMT

    @CRICFAN58973065 He actually averages 37, but his inconsistency is the biggest issue. Too many failures between entertaining knocks, yes he scored a century at home, against the West Indies! His last century against SL was a shocker, dropped 3 times before he had 20 runs. He is showing, this series, just how poor of a player against spin he is & with his usual inconsistency, & this from a 34yo? Is the way we wish to go int he future? UK will come straight back into the side to replace him after India, or should & hopefully we won't see him in the team again. Too many better & younger players should be selected ahead of him.

  • Channan on March 17, 2017, 14:18 GMT

    Two of the IPL captains have scored centuries for Australia. What gives?

  •   cricfan8026679817 on March 17, 2017, 14:07 GMT

    Nicely written Mr Kimber. I really enjoy your colourful commentary and analysis of our magnificent game. Far too many sports journalists today just write the basic story of what happened in the day's play. Your excellent insights into how & why that happened are most informative and always entertaining. I used to admire the writing of the late Peter Roebuck for exactly those reasons. You have very much filled that gap in my cricket consumption. Thank you sir.

  • Joseph Joe Sharp on March 17, 2017, 12:17 GMT

    Surely they have to keep playing Maxwell in this Australian test team over that useless Mitchell Marsh haha!

  • maplea6580885 on March 17, 2017, 10:09 GMT

    Best report I've read in ages. Well done - Pugs

  • indy on March 17, 2017, 8:28 GMT

    now that Australian coach should hide...He said our maxi cant bat..

  • bertfi0246698 on March 17, 2017, 6:04 GMT

    you are totally wrong Clyde.Marsh.S. has scored hundreds home and away and averages 40He's come back many times from serious injuries and performs at one day level as well.Get your facts right....for once.

  • Niraj on March 17, 2017, 6:02 GMT

    Its the head of Maxwell where there has had a problem. The innings shows that if he can work on his head then he can be a real force in any form of cricket.

  • Graham on March 17, 2017, 4:06 GMT

    After the Sri Lankan tour Australia had to be bold and start picking batsman that can play on the slower decks and in my opinion the right move to go past Khawaja, Voges etc. As there was only two batsman that performed on those tour and one was S Marsh so I understand why he is playing here. It would have been bold to put Warner in the basket of the others but it is different cricket and their seems to be enough data that he cant play in sub-continental conditions. There are reasons why AUstralia have lost so many of these tours and if you look at the opposition scores (particular Sri Lanka) it was that our batting is not up to scratch in these conditions. Patience is required in this cricket and how fantastic is it that the one bloke that no-one thought had it delivered in spades today. Well done Maxwell. I know Boof commented on Maxwell not converting tons but if you break it down on average he is more credentialled to be a test player than several others that have been tried.

  • Yogesh on March 17, 2017, 3:32 GMT

    Kimber, you have done it again! I look forward to your extremely well written, but not overly-embellished, articles on cricinfo. Great job. Thanks for giving so many readers pleasure with your writing. And the analyses are pretty darn good too.

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