THE AUSSIES: PAINE AND GAIN

ABC Cricket - - CONTENTS - GE­OFF LE­MON @GEOFFLEMONSPORT

New skip­per Tim Paine is tough enough for the job, writes Ge­off Le­mon.

It’s im­prob­a­ble that Tim Paine is back in Test cricket, let alone Aus­tralian cap­tain. But as Ge­off Le­mon writes, the keeper’s ex­pe­ri­ence of tough times might pre­pare him best for the chal­lenge of lead­ing the side in this un­cer­tain mo­ment.

Tim Paine should never have been Test cap­tain. He shouldn’t have been close. By 2018 he should have been watch­ing Tests on the telly late at night be­fore get­ting up for his of­fice job. Or ig­nor­ing cricket al­to­gether and sleep­ing through. Back in 2012, a young Matthew Wade, in his first stint as Aus­tralian wick­et­keeper, ex­pressed his sor­row for Paine’s lost ca­reer. A Shield high­lights video in 2014 de­scribed Paine as a “for­mer Aussie in­ter­na­tional”. He was a trivia an­swer, a blip on a wick­et­keep­ing time­line that went Healy, Gilchrist, Haddin.

Paine had been Haddin’s in­jury filler in July 2010. He de­buted along­side Steve Smith against Pak­istan, the two beam­ing and baby-faced in a photo, their skin as soft and un­dam­aged as the green felt of their caps. Paine made 47 and 33, then 92 and 59 in In­dia that Oc­to­ber. Throw in 16 catches and a stump­ing in his four Tests and he was fly­ing.

In Novem­ber, he was in a Cricket Aus­tralia ex­hi­bi­tion team against a fan-voted side at the Gabba. The game was halfway be­tween a spec­ta­cle and a con­test. Be­ing the for­mer, they had Paine miked up chat­ting to com­men­ta­tors while he stood at the crease. Be­ing the lat­ter,

Dirk Nannes bowled a brute at 150km/h that crushed Paine’s hand against his bat. The poor bug­ger was still on air. How was he, asked the comm box? “Oh, se­ri­ously no good,” he said with a heavy wince, try­ing to get his glove off. Was it bro­ken? “I think so,” said Paine. He re­tired im­me­di­ately on 4. The next day’s ABC news bul­letin an­nounced he could be side­lined for up to eight weeks. Try seven years.

He re-broke it in train­ing, and got the di­ag­no­sis he would keep hear­ing. “It is clear that the frac­ture has not healed as ex­pected and the best course of ac­tion is for Tim to un­dergo fur­ther surgery.” Seven times he went un­der the knife, har­vest­ing bits of bone from just about ev­ery­where else in his body. Aus­tralia would play 78 Tests be­tween his in­jury and his re­call in 2017. Smith, who had stood along­side him at Lord’s, would start in 53 of them.

There were al­ways nerves that an­other whack was on the way. His con­fi­dence went to bits. “I had some men­tal demons. I came back think­ing it would be eas­ier than it was, and when it didn’t hap­pen I started to panic. I couldn’t score a run in club cricket.”

He al­most hated the game. So he went to Eng­land in 2015. While Smith was mak­ing hun­dreds in the Ashes, Paine was play­ing in the Home Coun­ties Premier League and liv­ing with the club chair­man. “I think go­ing over there and play­ing for Ban­bury and find­ing a bit of en­joy­ment in the game again, look­ing back, it was a real turn­ing point.”

But he slipped in the Tas­ma­nia peck­ing order, even be­fore Wade an­nounced a move home for the 2017-18 sea­son. Long-time gear spon­sor Kook­aburra of­fered Paine a job in Mel­bourne. It would have been bit­ter­sweet: he would have been run­ning spon­sor­ships as the li­ai­son with cur­rent play­ers, sign­ing them up and or­gan­is­ing their kit so they could go off and play the cricket he couldn’t. But it was sta­bil­ity, his wife Bon­nie liked the idea, and baby Milla was on the way.

“I was pretty much done and dusted at that point. I had a quick con­ver­sa­tion with Greg Chappell, who had be­come a friend, and he said that maybe I should re­con­sider it, which made me think that I was around the mark for the T20 stuff. And then, I sup­pose a bit of fate with what­ever hap­pened with a new coach and a new CEO, list man­ager, high-per­for­mance man­ager. With a huge change in Tas­ma­nian cricket those new guys were re­ally keen for me to hang around, not only from a play­ing point of view but a lead­er­ship point of view. That’s the full story.”

Paine was in­deed around the mark for Aus­tralian T20s. He came back against Sri Lanka in Fe­bru­ary 2017 and made a di­a­mond duck. Luck wasn’t his strong point. So it was a bold call to tour Pak­istan with a World XI in Septem­ber as a test case for its safety. Those games counted as T20 In­ter­na­tion­als, tak­ing him to seven for the year.

Hardly any­one no­ticed: when fel­low Tas­ma­nian Ricky Ponting dis­cussed Ashes wick­et­keep­ing

op­tions, Paine didn’t get a men­tion. But Haddin was watch­ing, now a na­tional coach. Runs were the re­quired cur­rency. None of the first-class keep­ers could get a score that sea­son. Paine at least man­aged a fifty cap­tain­ing a warm-up XI against Eng­land.

It came down to the last Shield in­nings be­fore the squad was picked. Wade just had to give se­lec­tors a rea­son to keep him. Prob­lem was, Alex Doolan chose that in­nings to make his high­est first-class score, soak­ing up 380 balls for 247 not out. For hours, Wade was due in next. For hours, Doolan’s part­ner was Paine. Wade never got to bat, Paine made 71 not out. He was in the Ashes team in Novem­ber 2017.

Even Wade was happy for him. It’d be hard to dis­like Tim Paine. He’s straight up, not fum­bling for con­sul­tancy cliché or ma­cho blus­ter. He looks you in the eye with a bit of a smile in his. The shaggy blond look has aged to a darker

“I WAS PRETTY MUCH DONE AND DUSTED AT THAT POINT. I HAD A QUICK CON­VER­SA­TION WITH GREG CHAPPELL … AND HE SAID THAT MAYBE I SHOULD RE­CON­SIDER IT, WHICH MADE ME THINK THAT I WAS AROUND THE MARK FOR THE T20.”

brown quiff, still ca­su­ally pushed back. He’s re­laxed and man­i­festly pleas­ant; he could be an ex surf-rat who’s opened a cafe.

A few months later, Smith was sus­pended as cap­tain after the ball-tam­per­ing scan­dal in South Africa, and Paine’s lead­er­ship qual­i­ties saw him asked to take up the role. He took im­me­di­ate own­er­ship, as­sert­ing that player be­hav­iour hadn’t been good enough and would get bet­ter. This wasn’t a high bar, but one that some Aus­tralians had been fail­ing to clear for a long time.

“I think in sport, win­ning cov­ers over a lot of cracks,” he said at the time. “But I think it has got to the stage now where we need to lis­ten to our fans and the Aus­tralian pub­lic and give them a cricket team that they are proud of, win, lose or draw.”

For a long time, Paine’s Aus­tralian ca­reer was bit­ter, a story of missed chances. He hid his baggy green cap. All of a sud­den, he wasn’t just wear­ing it again but was lead­ing out ten oth­ers do­ing the same. He had his own way of do­ing

“I THINK IN SPORT, WIN­NING COV­ERS OVER A LOT OF CRACKS,” HE SAID AT THE TIME. “BUT I THINK IT HAS GOT TO THE STAGE NOW WHERE WE NEED TO LIS­TEN TO OUR FANS AND THE AUS­TRALIAN PUB­LIC AND GIVE THEM A CRICKET TEAM THAT THEY ARE PROUD OF.”

that, like when he stood up to the stumps in Jo­han­nes­burg and Chadd Say­ers cracked his hand.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing that I just wasn’t go­ing to go off,” he said. “I was cer­tain that I had bro­ken my thumb that ball, but I also had in the back of my mind that I was the cap­tain and we weren’t go­ing so well and it was the last Test of the se­ries. I thought it would set a tone of how I want to play my cricket: I want to be tough and un­com­pro­mis­ing and there are dif­fer­ent ways to do that rather than sledg­ing. I thought that was a good way to show that.”

Per­haps be­ing out­side the na­tional teams set-up for so long can make Paine bet­ter able to come in and change it. He’s grown up else­where and has his own ideas of what’s right. “I’ve been put into this lead­er­ship po­si­tion be­cause of how I’ve been pre­vi­ously,” is his sim­ple take.

“So the im­por­tant thing for me is to con­tinue to be my­self.”

You worry about his chances though. Paine’s team this sum­mer won’t have a sin­gle proven Test bats­man. Plenty of voices in Aus­tralian cricket still say ver­bal ag­gres­sion helps you win, even though there’s no ev­i­dence of it. With Paine pro­mot­ing de­cency in­stead, it will be the first thing blamed if his team starts to lose.

And if the old ag­gres­sion re­turns, any suc­cess that fol­lows will be marked up to it. Cor­re­la­tion and cau­sa­tion are not the same, but it’s easy to imag­ine that they are. For now, Aus­tralia has a de­cent man as cap­tain. The ques­tion is how long he’ll be al­lowed to con­tinue be­ing ei­ther.

Back in the baggy green: hav­ing waited seven years for an­other chance to play Test cricket, Tim Paine now bears the man­tle of leader of the team.

Paine will be only the fourth Aussie keeper to get the (c) next to his name.

A fresh-faced pair of fu­ture Aussie cap­tains on de­but, against Pak­istan at Lord’s back in 2010.

After the scan­dal at New­lands, Paine found him­self along­side Faf de Plessis, and in the spot­light.

Win­ning back the trust of the fans with a more hum­ble on-field at­ti­tude is a top pri­or­ity. Win­ning it­self will help ...

This is an edited ex­tract from Steve Smith’s Men by Ge­off Le­mon, pub­lished by Hardie Grant Books. RRP $29.99 and avail­able in stores na­tion­ally from Novem­ber 1, 2018.

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