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How Punjab can solve the curious case of Glenn Maxwell and salvage their season

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Is there a way for Glenn Maxwell out of his ongoing IPL rut?

IPL

How Punjab can solve the curious case of Glenn Maxwell and salvage their season

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Anirudh Suresh

10/08/2020

In its 12 years of existence, the IPL has been witness to everything. Controversies, scandals, fairytale stories, downfalls, dynasties - you name it, the IPL has seen it all. But there is one unsolved mystery that continues to haunt everyone who watches the competition: the curious case of Maxwell.

It wouldn’t have been outlandish six years ago to have imagined that in 2020, there would be multiple round-table discussions about Glenn Maxwell being the biggest and greatest match-winner in IPL history; that’s how good he was. Or at least he seemed. Yet, six years on, here we are. The only two terms that Maxwell is associated with are ‘overhyped’ and ‘overrated’ and the only discussions we’re having is who Maxwell should make way for. His downfall in the IPL, over the course of six years, has been drastic, dramatic and painful.

Why and how, no one quite knows! There is no logical explanation to Maxwell’s horror run in the IPL that seems to have no end. Since the mystifying 2014 season, Maxwell has averaged 19.11 (yes, that is not a typo) across 46 innings and has passed the fifty-run mark just twice. What’s perplexing about these numbers is that he is not someone whose career has had a free-fall: in this same period (2015-2020), the Victorian’s T20I average shot up to 42 and he’s continued being one of the most consistent performers in the Big Bash League, where, since Jan 2015, he’s averaged 36.7. 

So what’s the deal, then? Could the IPL just be a bogey tournament where Maxwell simply cannot seem to attain success no matter what he tries or does? Silly as it sounds, there might be logic to it. A week prior to the commencement of the ongoing edition of the tournament, Maxwell played the finest knock of his career, and was named the Man of the Tournament for his impeccable exploits versus the world champions, England. Yet, in under a fortnight, he somehow managed to transform into Chris Martin and made fans and experts turn on him, through five uninspiring knocks.

There is no way it should have been possible, and yet, it happened. The million-dollar question now is: Is Maxwell’s IPL career, or at least his IPL 2020 season, salvageable? A straightforward ‘no’, one imagines, would be the most common answer, but there might be the last throw of the dice available for the Kings to try and resurrect the Maxi of 2014 and, in turn, get their season back on track.

In the five knocks he’s played thus far in IPL 2020, Maxwell, barring the Sharjah game versus Rajasthan where he faced only 9 balls, has batted below Nicholas Pooran four times and has predominantly been employed by skipper KL Rahul at number five. In simple terms, Maxwell has been identified by Rahul and the management as the team’s ideal finisher. But a glaring pattern in the right-hander’s T20 career, and his subsequent numbers, suggest that Punjab - and before them Delhi - have got it all wrong. 

For Maxwell, at least in T20 cricket, has been a victim of his own success. His exploits have created an image that he is a “boom boom whack whack” batsman who can slay opponents right from ball one but what has, in fact, yielded him success is time. Maxwell’s best knocks - in white-ball cricket in general, more so in T20s - have come when he’s had time at his disposal. In each of his 3 T20I tons, the right-hander was in as early as the powerplay - he opened in the Sri Lanka game where he scored 145* - and the breathing space at hand allowed him to size up the opposition before slicing through them gradually.  Unfortunately, he has not had that luxury this season, or in the preceding five seasons of the IPL, where he’s been expected to explode from the moment he walks in.

Consider this: In his IPL career, Maxwell at No.3 has averaged 33 across 13 innings and has struck at 194. In fact, in ‘that’ 2014 season, Maxwell’s onslaught in the first half of the tournament came as a No.3 batsman and that year, he averaged 47 across 7 innings he batted at No.3. Yet, since IPL 2014, in four and a half seasons, the right-hander has been deployed at No.3 just six times and has predominantly been used as a No.5 and No.6 batsman. The integration of Mandeep Singh back into the side suggests that Punjab might be in no mood to hand Maxwell a promotion anytime soon, but there is overwhelming evidence for them to take the punt - not just to get the best out of him, but also to maximize the returns of the man who is currently batting ahead of him, Nicholas Pooran.

Glenn Maxwell vs Nicholas Pooran

When it comes to the batting positions of Maxwell and Pooran, Punjab, unfortunately, this season, have got it all wrong. Pooran has been employed at No.3 and No.4 as the bridge between the top and middle-order and Maxwell has been employed at No.5 and No.6 as the finisher when clearly, it has to be the other way around. The need for the same is simple: as the numbers will tell us, while Maxwell is a more complete batsman than Pooran, the southpaw is a bigger destructive force with the bat, particularly at the death.

In 3 of Punjab’s first 5 games this season, Maxwell walked out to bat post the 13th over. In each of the three innings, he faced less than 10 balls (two not-outs) and in all three digs, the situation demanded him to go for broke right from the word go. In contrast, Pooran faced at least 10 more balls than Maxwell in two of the aforementioned innings and had the time to play himself in before cutting loose. Long story short, things did not quite pan out the way Punjab wanted it to.

There are two reasons why Punjab’s ploy failed:  one, Maxwell is not the most efficient ‘quick-starter’ at the death - not as good as Pooran, at least - and two, Pooran has not yet cracked the code to build an innings in T20 cricket.  A simple role-reversal for the duo would help the franchise extract the best out of both their talismans. For all his reputation and god-gifted, monstrous six-hitting ability, Maxwell is some way behind Pooran when it comes to finishing innings off in T20s, particularly when he’s not had his eye in. 

In T20s (excluding T20Is) since the start of 2019, Maxwell, in the last 5 overs of a T20 game, has hit 25 sixes in 243 balls, which is a six every 9.72 balls. However, this number is dwarfed by that of Pooran, who has hit a six every 7.64 balls (39 sixes in 298 balls). In each of the three aforementioned games where he came in post the 13th over, Maxwell did not hit a single six.

In fact, the daylight between him and Pooran when it comes to quick starts at the death was underlined in the Sharjah game versus RR. There, both players pretty much walked in at the same time and faced just under 10 balls, but while Maxwell managed just 13 runs off his 9 deliveries (2 fours and 0 sixes), Pooran struck 25 off his 8 (1 four and 3 sixes). 

Pooran’s superiority over Maxwell at the death is further highlighted by his numbers in ‘cameos’ over the course of the last two years. Between overs 16-20 in T20s since 2018, Pooran has maintained an SR of 225 when he’s faced between 8-18 balls at the death, while Maxwell’s SR is almost 30 fewer, 193. Pooran also, in this time period, when he’s faced between 8-18 balls in overs 16-20 in T20s since 2018, has hit 2.57 sixes per innings, while on the contrary, Maxwell has just managed a meagre 1.23. 

These figures make a case for KXIP to utilize Pooran - and not Maxwell - as the finisher, but there is more concrete evidence as to why the roles need to be reversed. For Maxwell is head and shoulders above Pooran when it comes to both, building an innings and making the most out of starts. Despite having come to bat before the 7th over in 3 of his 5 innings this season, Pooran did not play over 30 balls in either. The 27 balls he faced versus Mumbai in Abu Dhabi remains his longest knock and both his worst knocks - 1(3) vs Delhi and 17 (18) - came when he was exposed early to the spinners.

While there is good reason to pass all this as one-offs, particularly due to the manner in which he carved the Mumbai bowling apart, a pattern in Pooran’s T20 career suggests that he is not the greatest of batsmen in the world when it comes to constructing an innings.

In his entire T20 career, spanning 118 innings (minus T20Is), the left-hander, despite batting in the top and middle, has faced over 40 balls in an innings in just thrice (2.54%) and has faced over 30 balls in an innings 14 times (11.86%).  In contrast, Maxwell (190 T20s) has faced over 40 balls in an innings 12 times (6.31%) and has batted more than 30 balls 28 times (14.73%), figures almost twice as better as that of Pooran. 

What is also striking is that when Maxwell gets his eye in, he, unlike Pooran, ensures to make it count. 

In the 28 occasions where he’s faced over 30 balls, Maxwell has passed fifty 22 times (78.57%) and in those innings, he’s scored 73.5 runs per innings on average. Contrastingly, Pooran, whenever he’s faced over 30 balls, has passed fifty only 9 times (64%) and in those 9 knocks, he’s been dismissed under a score of 65 four times. 

Despite getting his runs almost always in quick time, Pooran has seldom cashed in on his starts and has, more often than not, left his side wanting. This was also evident in Punjab’s last two games against Mumbai and Chennai where, despite racing off to 30 and 40-plus scores with ample time left in the innings, he threw his wicket away prematurely. On top of all this - and this is perhaps the most important facet of all - what makes Maxwell a better fit to bat higher - at least definitely ahead of Pooran - is his nifty ability to rotate strike up until the death overs.

In 21 non-international T20s last year, Maxwell, in overs 1-14,  had an impeccable dot-ball percentage of 27% and also maintained a startling strike rate of 140.7. Pooran, in comparison, in the same period, had a dot ball percentage of 45.6% and maintained an SR of only 129.9. When it comes to the West Indian, it is not a one-off either, as in 2018 and 2017, he had dot-ball percentages of 41.8 and 51.3 in overs 1-14. This year, he has a dot-ball percentage of 42.6% and has been striking at a pedestrian 119.4, prior to the death overs. 

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In any other side, in any other season, perhaps Pooran’s dot-ball percentage would not have mattered much but with KL Rahul having undertaken a more conservative role up top, it is imperative that, for Kings XI, the batsman coming in at 3 or 4 is proactive. Barring his innings versus Bangalore where he was offered multiple reprieves, Rahul has maintained an SR sub-130 in each of the other four games, and so the combination of his slow approach and new batsmen eating up balls would leave the finishers with too much to do.

Rahul’s conservative approach will be a boon to the side in matches where he bats more than 90% of the innings, like the RCB encounter, but it will unintentionally end up hurting the side in other games, as was the case in both the CSK encounter and the RR game in Sharjah, where he ate up a lot of deliveries and perished without providing a final flourish. Sending in Maxwell at 3 could perhaps even free-up Rahul a bit, as he'll know that he has a batsman at the other end who, once he gets his eye in, is capable of tearing attacks down, irrespective of the surface and the quality of bowling. 

It is a shame for both Punjab and Maxwell that things haven’t quite worked out the way they thought it would. But the side have got their role-definitions all wrong. The numbers make it clear: 3 is where Maxwell belongs and by fitting him and Pooran in the right positions, not only will KXIP get the best out of both the individuals, but they will also open avenues within the batting unit that could help unlock untapped potential. As things stand, getting rid of Maxwell - and they have every right and reason to do that - will be the easier option, but it just might not be the wisest. Time will only tell if there’s a twist in the tale and if Maxwell’s IPL career will come full circle, or if his mysterious case will remain unsolved. 

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