Sri Lanka’s “pop-gun” attack derided

Will Swanton in The Australian, October 29th 2019,

There’s never been a batsman like Glenn Maxwell. The stumps are scared to watch. Off puts its hands over its face and shrieks. Middle grimaces and braces for impact. Leg, rarely so exposed, is ducking for cover.His latest experimentation is a direct lift from the baseball playbook and acknowledgment of the fact that when the primary objective in T20 is to dispatch the leather out of the park, you cannot hit what you cannot properly see. Maxwell has sounded at his kooky best when he’s smashed 62 runs off 28 balls against Sri Lanka’s pop-gun attack and then credited it with getting “my right eye involved in the game a bit more”.

There’s been times when use of the left side of his brain has been advisable but then again, ignoring the sensible option helps make him what he is. Wildly creative and entertaining. Most geniuses, sporting or otherwise, have some madness to go with it. You may not want Maxwell batting for your life, or in a Test, or on a green top, or in England, or at 2-20, but on a flat deck against throwers of pie … get that show on the road.

Maxwell has brought his right eye, the poor old overlooked thing, and all its invaluable components — cornea, pupil, retina, vitreous humour, all previously going to waste — out of hiding by opening his stance to near-Shivnarine Chanderpaul proportions.

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Chanderpaul has adopted his own extreme method for better visuals when as a junior, only by pointing his face at the bowler has he been able to see the missiles from West Indian quicks.

Maxwell’s greatest parallel is with baseball’s batters, however. Ex-Minnesota Twins baseballer Doug Bernier has written about the two-eyes-are-better-than-one scenario in an article called How To See The Ball Better When Hitting — Baseball Vision And Drills.

“There is one thing we can all agree on,” Bernier writes. “You can’t hit what you can’t see. In my 16 years of playing professional baseball, I discovered that there are a surprising number of ways that we sabotage ourselves by unknowingly hurting our ability to see the ball. If the stance is not done properly, it can keep us from having the clear vision we need to enable our body to react efficiently and have proper hand-eye co-ordination. Hitting is already considered one of the most difficult things in sports. The last thing we need is to make it needlessly more difficult.”

Maxwell has previously used a rather conventional stance before getting funky at the moment of the bowler’s release. Now his left foot is in line with mid-wicket. His left shoulder still points at the bowler but the torso and face are square. Hitting sixes over mid-wicket at Adelaide Oval on Sunday, he’s basically been clubbing high fly balls to deep left field. When Los Angeles’ Mike Trout hits homers at Angel Stadium, he’s basically hitting sixes over mid-wicket. What’s next for T20 cricket? Waiting for the ball with your bat on your shoulder, Trout-style? Kicking the front leg for more distance?

The exaggerated open posture is a balancing act for Maxwell. He still needs to hit through the offside. Trout isn’t looking to punch one through the gap behind point. But it’s clearly a baseball batting trick. He’s been mic’d up for Fox Sports on Sunday. Commentator Mark Waugh has said of his new technique, “almost like a baseball stance? Because they’re quite open when they strike the ball.” Maxwell has replied, “Hundred per cent. It just gets both eyes working together a bit more and keeps my head nice and still.”

Bernier has complained of being so out of sorts as a batter that he can’t hit water when he falls out of a boat — until he’s opened his stance and brought his right eye into play.

“I did nothing but see the baseball,” he writes. “I’d never seen the ball better in my life. I was able to pick up sliders, early change-ups. I laid off pitches off the plate. That was probably the first time I actually watched the ball come out of the pitcher’s hand with both eyes.

“I know that seems crazy, but that was the first time I’ve noticed how well I could actually see it. Cover one eye and see what happens when you try to catch a ball. That’s not easy. You lose depth perception. Most of us look at the pitcher with one eye. But if we can’t catch a ball that’s being lobbed to us underhand with one eye open, how are we able to hit like that? We need to be able to see the ball with both eyes. It seems so basic, so juvenile that we don’t even consider it anymore. But making sure you see the ball with both eyes, that’s some of the best advice you’ll ever get.”

Australia and Sri Lanka meet at the Gabba tomorrow night. England has revolutionised the 50-over game, and won a World Cup, by swinging for the fences, but Maxwell believes next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia will be more than a home-run contest.

“I think with the size of the boundaries here, it’s certainly going to stretch the power hitters,” he says. “It’s not going to be like in England, where you’ve got shorter boundaries and you can just continue to power-hit no matter the situation of the game.

“We’ve got grounds where yeah, you can clear the ropes. But you’ve got to be good at running between wickets and placing the ball as well.

“Hopefully we’ve got a team that can adapt to all situations.” No pun intended, Maxwell adds, “it feels like we’ve got a lot of bases covered in this side”.

Will Swanton is a sports reporter for The Australian. He’s won five Australian Sports Commission awards for sports writing. He was a Walkley Award finalist for coverage of the Nepal earthquake and is the author… 

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