Major League Maxi: The baseball tools that helped Glenn Maxwell transform batting

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Perth, 2015. Australia is sprinting towards a massive World Cup total against Afghanistan. Glenn Maxwell, 26 years old then, decides to try something against Shapoor Zadran.

Keeping his feet anchored with his stance slightly open, Maxwell relies on his eyes, his wrists and weight transfer to send a fullish delivery flying onto the WACA Ground hill – making the most of warm-up drills he has used during the Big Bash League.

There are similarities in the hitting style of Glenn Maxwell and former Red Sox player Dustin Pedroia.Credit: Stephen Kiprillis

Eight years on, Maxwell recalled that shot when trying to explain how he had managed to slam a series of sixes, once more against Afghanistan, despite battling with full-body cramps during an unforgettable innings of 201 in Mumbai.

“It’s when I get into a really nice rhythm, I don’t feel like I need to do a lot of foot and body movement,” Maxwell said.

“I did it against Afghanistan in 2015, I think it was a left-armer and I stood dead still and was able to use my hands to flick one over deep square. I just feel like it doesn’t give away any cues, I don’t have any pre-movements, I’m not moving around too much.”

Maxwell is not the first cricketer to minimise footwork, which is meant to be the cornerstone of batting. Virender Sehwag, the owner of two Test triple centuries, had little regard for it. “While his hands and eyes were locked in a wondrous marriage, his feet were usually not invited to this wedding,” Indian journalist Rohit Brijnath wrote in this masthead during the 2003-04 tour of Australia. England’s Harry Brook is another, adopting a power position as the bowler approaches in both Test and white-ball cricket.

Maxwell, in the Twenty20 era, has taken this approach to new levels.

The inspiration

Maxwell’s warm-up drill was drawn from South African great A.B. de Villiers, and Maxwell’s ability to snap through the ball recalls the skills of some of Major League Baseball’s most compact hitters. But even in the age of Twenty20, it remains oddly unorthodox in Australian eyes.

“He just has an ability to hit the ball so late and transfer weight between both legs,” Trent Woodhill, who coached Maxwell at the Melbourne Stars, told this masthead. “Watching some of the baseballers, the way they’re able to go from front foot to back foot while not even moving, it’s just amazing.

“You think of the effort other players need to put into the ball to get it over the fence … Other six hitters are tallish guys who use long levers to hit, and there’s not many who snap through the ball at all.

“A lot of other guys deal in horizontal and vertical techniques, rather than ‘Maxi’ just having the one technique, and that’s to snap your body weight through the ball, and that finishes with the hands snapping.”

One baseballer who demonstrated this gift for over a decade was the former Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Where Maxwell was handed the moniker of “the Big Show” early in his Australian days, Pedroia called himself “Laser Show”, in reference to the lights lit up by his home runs.

At 175 centimetres and 77 kilograms, Pedroia’s size was not dissimilar to Maxwell’s 180cm and 73kg, but very much at the lower end for MLB hitters.

“There are a lot more baseball hitters who look like Kieron Pollard and Marcus Stoinis and company than look like Glenn,” Woodhill said.

“But someone like Pedroia who is of similar stature to Glenn, that ability to hit long balls consistently where others need perfect conditions, that’s where Glenn has that ability. Pedroia could turn his hip into the ball, and it didn’t matter where the pitch was in the zone, because he was able to adjust so well.”

Dustin “Laser Show” Pedroia.Credit: Getty

This is what Maxwell honed in those drills appropriated from de Villiers – transferring weight through the ball to find power.

“One of the things I used to work on before every BBL game going back about eight or nine years now, is I used to do no-foot drills,” Maxwell told Adam Gilchrist on the Prairie Fire podcast.

“The first 12 balls I faced I’d stand dead still but try to hit them as far as I could as basically a warm-up, and whatever the length I had to hold my top body for as long as I could to get the right trajectory, which I feel like I could hit a six.

“So working on that upper-body movement without using your legs is actually a good way of finding out where your ideal hitting point is, and I suppose going back to that, I have to tinker a bit with bowlers being able to not just bowl half volleys outside off stump, but bowling different areas. But just relying on stuff I’d worked on in earlier years and trying to adapt as quickly as I could.”

What about the reverse slap for six?

Other stunning shots, especially a reverse for six when Afghanistan’s seamer Azmatullah Omarzai tried to pitch wide of the off stump, came from years of field manipulation. All contribute to the sense that, if Maxwell is in rhythm, there is actually no safe place to bowl to him.

“Once I get in I feel if I set myself early enough in my mind and have a good idea of where I’m trying to hit it, I feel like my hands can get me out of trouble if the ball’s not quite in that area,” Maxwell said to Gilchrist.

Glenn Maxwell’s astonishing reverse slap for six during his double century against Afghanistan at the World Cup.Credit: Nine.

“I do give myself a few different options for different lengths and those sorts of things. But I use Mujeeb [Ur Rahman] as an example early in my innings – all I did early was play one reverse sweep to Noor Ahmed to make sure the deep backward point was a little bit finer, and I knew they’d have to have mid-off up at some stage.

“They couldn’t keep mid-wicket up if he wanted to bowl his leggies and sort of try to challenge me on the inside. With that, I’ve got a gap either side of mid-off, either side of cover, and over the top, so as soon as they get wide outside off, I know I can use my hands to find gaps there, so I set myself up for that every ball.”

The next dimension

This level of calculation, with Maxwell’s degree of skill, is of course freakish. But there is also an opportunity to share some of the Maxwell way more widely, if only other players would consider the possibility of thinking more laterally.

These lessons need not be restricted to white ball cricket alone. Tackling left-arm spin in India remains Australia’s biggest unclimbed summit.

“If I’m Australian cricket, I’m having a massive focus on the next four to eight years of the Olympics and how do we beat up left-arm spin,” Woodhill said. “And you don’t need to look any further than someone like Maxi.

“On an up and down surface, on a moving surface, on a spinning surface, it just makes more sense that you try and present as much of the blade as possible and turn your body into it, rather than trying to push your body into it with a straight bat.”

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