THE AUSSIES: PAINE AND GAIN
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.