Some players can't help but put their foot in it - like a batsman who can't resist the urge to play the hook shot even when every fielder is on the boundary waiting for the catch - they can't seem to keep their mouth shut when given a platform from which to speak. Glen Maxwell fits into both those camps, as his latest comments show.
For those who might have missed it—perhaps, like the protagonist of the Triffids you have been lying isolated in a hospital—Maxwell was overlooked for selection in a recent international match and made his displeasure known to the media. Had that been the extent of it, it might have slipped under the radar, but he also committed one of the cardinal sins of team sports—criticising a team mate.
Never go full....solo
If Maxwell had simply blamed the selectors it might have been black mark, but who hasn't given the Three Wise Men (or however many there are now, who actually knows?) of Australian cricket at some point? If he'd cast aspersions on the media he simply would have been continuing in a storied tradition older than Bodyline. He could have blamed anyone, even his Mum for giving him the wrong tablet, and it would have been fine.
But, when he blamed batting behind Matthew Wade in the Victorian lineup, and by extension Wade himself, for his problems he crossed an invisible line and created a storm of opinions, with some pundits excoriating him, others leaping to his defence—but none left sitting on the fence. For Maxwell had gone all in, and put the player before the team.
The case for the defence
There are a number of arguments than can be made for putting yourself first, of course, and I will quickly cover those. Many would argue that all great cricketers—athletes in fact—possess a core of selfishness, otherwise they wouldn't make it to the top. I'd argue, though, that it is actually self belief, verging on egomania, that these players have. They believe that they deserve—no—are destined for greatness and refuse to accept anything less.
However, I think most of the truly great players manage to find a balance between this self belief, and the fact cricket is a team sport. While arrogance is never far away, there is still an understanding that no one can win a game single handedly and that to reach your absolute peak you need others around you. How much better would Sachin have been in the current Indian team, or Allan Border reaping the rewards of his own hard work rather than Waugh or Ponting getting their own Invincibles?
What's good for the team...
While great players can lift the whole team with them, every player has a role to play in building up those around them. It could be a fielder chasing a ball all the way to the boundary even though it is futile, and by doing so making the bowler feel like he is getting the backing of the team. Or it might be—like in Australia's most recent Golden Age—batsmen not just disappearing after their own net, but spending time with the tail enders and treating their batting as more than just a joke.
Of course, it's not just simple altruism. Even though I am sure that those batsmen were nice players, those who were the butt of jokes for wasting their time on bowlers had the last laugh on days where they found themselves in the 90s with only a number 11 at the other end to help them reach that precious century. And how many games did Australia win because the tail wagged and put on what turned out to be match winning runs? It may not have been the best players who won those matches—it was the team players.
Being a team player
This is why there is not many greater insults than to say, "So and so isn't a team player," and conversely, to say that "Such and such always puts the team first", is true praise indeed. That is the sort of reputation that gets people picked even when they might not be as skilled as the guy seen as selfish or unwilling to fit in—just ask Brad Hodge. And, that's why Glen Maxwell did himself some serious damage with this spray. He threw a team mate under the bus to try and build himself up.
People may point out that members of great teams don't have to love each other to play well, or win, or build dynasties. Apparently Warne and Gilchrist couldn't stand one another, and everyone knew that Warne felt he should have been captain instead of Ponting. But, they may not of have liked each other, but they knew that they could rely on each other to do the right thing by the team—and that they would never let each other down. Warne had an ego as big as anyone, but no one could ever say he wasn't a team player. All of them cared more about the team winning than their own glory—and if they got some of that glory in the process that was a bonus, not the aim.
The Centre Cannot Hold
Teams who can't reply on each other fall apart. Run outs become increasingly frequent because every one is protecting themselves and will see the other guy stranded. Bowlers think of their long term career and bowl within themselves. When there is a loss everyone blames someone else instead of taking the blame, like the credit for a win, equally. And the guy next to you is no longer a team mate, but a rival, whose success is something to be feared—not celebrated.
That's where the road Maxwell is on leads in the end, because if he goes on like this, all his team mates will constantly be looking at him and wondering—can they rely on him when the chips are down.? Will he play for the team, or for his own figures? Can they trust him not to turn on them when times are tough? If they can't answer yes to all those questions then they won't give him their all when he needs them—and he will never be all he can be.
A fragmented team of selfish players is the last thing Australian cricket needs right now, as they seek to reenter another Golden Age. We don't have to look far to see what needs to happen—just like the rebuilding phase under Border and Simpson, character will be more important than ability, and brilliant loners will be jettisoned for players who will put the team first.
David Goodwin is the former Editor of The Salvation Army's magazine, On Fire. He is a freelance writer, and an unapologetic geek.
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html