It’s now a delayed-action fuse!

Glenn Maxwell strikes the ball as well as — if not better than — anyone else in world cricket. But what he has now understood — with a lot of help from Steve Smith — is that he can be of greater use to the team if he gets his eye in and then cuts loose. By Shreedutta Chidananda.

Two years ago, Glenn Maxwell drew ridicule and disapproval for his rather bold assessment of his own abilities. “I’m very confident I can perform now at this level. Hopefully, I can be that X-factor that Australia needs to win this tournament. I feel like I can become that X-factor in all three facets of the game and hopefully be that flair that Australia really wants to see,” he said ahead of the 2012 World T20 in Sri Lanka. Maxwell finished with eight runs in two innings that tournament and there were widespread smirks.

There weren’t that many when, recently, Maxwell bludgeoned a 51-ball-century against Sri Lanka — the fastest ODI hundred by an Australian and the second-fastest World Cup ton. That knock was the difference between a good and a great total as Australia overcame Sri Lanka in a game that was closer than the scoreboard suggests.

Maxwell is brash, cocky, and to some downright arrogant, but he’s a pretty fine cricket player. He strikes the ball as well as — if not better than — anyone else in world cricket. He plays a variety of shots — the hockey-style drag flick over midwicket, the pull, the scoop, and some staggering reverse sweeps. Some accused him of disrespect but Maxwell cannot pull off his high-risk shots as often as he does without practice.

Ahead of the World Cup he admitted that he had been hurt by some of the things that were being said. “I took different things to heart, took different criticism to heart,” he said. “I didn’t let all of it miss me, I like to think I’m quite laid-back and I can cop criticism. But sometimes, it hits pretty close to home, and sometimes you think it’s a personal attack on you. So, for anyone who knows me, they’ll know I’m not like that at all. People saying I’m an egocentric show-off who doesn’t care for the team — sometimes that hurts, and I don’t really understand it,” he said.

What Maxwell has understood — with a lot of help from Steve Smith — is that he can be of greater use to the team if he gets his eye in and then cuts loose. Against Sri Lanka for example, he pushed and chipped the ball over the infield, looked for gaps and took his time. “What people are starting to understand is that the reverse sweep is a normal shot. It’s as normal a shot as it can be, it’s exactly the same as the sweep shot, it’s just the other way. But I think people are understanding that’s almost normal. I just delay playing it until I feel like it’s acceptable, I suppose. I felt like I delayed it long enough, playing anything in the air, anything people might think it’s risky. It’s just about delaying it as long as you can,” he said.

Maxwell can turn a game on its head in the blink of an eye. Teams can budget for batsmen scoring at a strike rate of 120 or 130. They cannot recover when someone walks in and slams a 25-ball-50. The Victorian generates enormous power and has great hand-eye co-ordination. What sets him apart is his fearlessness, that willingness to attack the bowling whatever the situation. To him there are no limited scoring areas. He can make runs all 360 degrees around and crush bowling attacks.

At last year’s World T20, his impact was brief but strong. R. Ashwin summed up what was going through the minds of bowlers the world over, when he said: “Maxwell has been playing some awesome cricket, in real honesty. I heard a few words, that he’s a free spirit. He just comes and keeps banging, you don’t know what happens. When somebody is in such form, you have to take your hat off and say he’s done pretty well.”

India felt the full force of Maxwell’s abilities in the IPL last year, when he clobbered 552 runs at a strike rate of 187.75 over 16 innings. The world is slowly beginning to appreciate that Maxwell’s initial success was not a flash in the pan, that he’s not an over-rated one-trick pony. Teams now fear him and don’t know what to do. It is hard to set fields when someone is hitting the ball into the stands.

When Maxwell first burst onto the scene, with the fastest fifty in the history of Australian domestic cricket, he was labelled the Big Show.

The name stuck, with people presuming it was a name he had given himself or one that he enjoyed being called. It is far from true, though. “Every time I’ve played for whatever team, I’ve always tried to win the game for the team, and have the team’s best interests at heart,” he said.

“Some people might not think so, some might think all those different shots are a way for me to stand out, which is complete rubbish. I suppose that’s the toughest thing to deal with — when people don’t understand, and have a crack at you for being something different, apart from the team. I don’t want to be known as the ‘Big Show’ or anything like that — I just want to be known as an integral part of Australian cricket who is hopefully going to take us to the World Cup.”

In the form that he’s in, he may very well do so.