DID TIM JUST SAVE CRICKET
ROBERT CRADDOCK P72
NO matter how grand and heroic his beach cricket fantasies were as a child playing on Lauderdale’s white sands, nothing Tim Paine dared to dream as a boy will surpass the historic reality of what he lived and breathed in Dubai this week.
The mild-mannered Australian Test cricket captain led his teammates to a worldrecord draw against Pakistan that defied the expectations of every commentator on the planet.
The Tasmanian was at the helm of what leggie legend Shane Warne described as perhaps the worst Aussie batting line-up of all time. It collapsed in the first innings, losing all 10 wickets for 60 after a good start by openers Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja.
The wiles of the Pakistan spinners on a pitch that looked like baked mud under a scorching Middle East sun were too foreign, too challenging, too different from anything this team had faced.
Humiliation awaited. A win was out of the question, needing a world-record 462, and a draw required the seven remaining batsmen, including the tail, to bat the entire fifth and final day.
The team lasted 82 overs for 202 in its first innings. It needed to bat almost twice that long — 140 overs — to draw.
Thanks to a magnificent 141 off 302 balls from Khawaja, pilloried for years for failing against spinners on dusty decks, the Aussies were miraculously still at the crease with an over to go.
Paine faced Yasir Shah, a magician regarded by Warne as one of the best spinners in modern cricket. Shah has a mesmerising armoury of leggies, flippers, topspinners and googlies and is the fifthfastest bowler in Test history to take 100 wickets. He’s damn good.
There were nine Pakistan fielders within whispering distance of Paine at the crease: two slips, a close gully, two in his eye-line on the off-side, one in his vision at a short mid-wicket, one snuggled in tight on his hip within touching distance, and one tucked in leg slip. The keeper was close enough to the stumps for Paine to have felt his breath on the back of his neck.
TV cameras scanned the worried looks of the Aussies in the changerooms. Khawaja’s brow furrowed, Aussies in the crowd were riding the tension.
Back in Tasmania and on the beachside streets of Lauderdale where he grew up, Paine’s neighbours were on couches under blankets glued to their TVs or in bed asleep. Outside, the temperature hovered at 11C, dogs barked occasionally, and a Magpie sang a lonesome song into the still darkness under a heavy cloud.
Paine could not have been further from home — in a Middle Eastern city dominated by skyscrapers in the Arabian Desert.
Dubai has unimaginable wealth and boasts the world’s tallest building, Khalifa Tower, which stands 830m high, only a few hundred metres shy of kunanyi/Mt Wellington. The towering building is among many in a city regarded as the skyscraper capital of the world.
These buildings reflect the opulence and aesthetic of Arab and Islamic culture on the rise. Five times a day, Muslims are called to prayer from the minarets of mosques through the city.
The temperature in Dubai averages above 30C at this time of year.
I imagine it has felt even hotter for the Aussies in this Test, as the partisans of world cricket and a voracious media have feasted on the carcass of Australian cricket since the shame of the ball tampering in South Africa.
Australia, for decades a powerhouse of the game, is on its knees. The expected capitulation to Pakistan in Dubai was to be symbolic of the slaying of the dragon; the final moment of a once-feared opponent that had become a laughing stock more deserving of pity than respect.
The pressure was acute as Paine faced what was to be the Test match’s final ball.
This unassuming Tasmanian stood between what was expected, inevitable and long-awaited in world cricket, and the possibility of an underdog defying the odds. His calm expression said one thing: I believe.
His composed forward defence — the foundation of batting technique taught to children around the world, and learnt by Paine on the streets of Lauderdale — brought the game to a close and delivered Australia a great escape and a story to be told for generations.
Paine’s glory in this historic moment is significant because most races, bouts and challenges are won and lost before a ball has been bowled or a step taken. Expectations decide their fate. Expectations are the reason girls have not in the past achieved as highly in science, maths and engineering, not genetics or intelligence. Expectations decide most outcomes.
The first step to success is to believe. Belief does not guarantee success, but it is a prerequisite.
Dominant forces and the status quo will always reinforce, restate and refer to expectations to quell an opponent’s belief. You see it in the AFL’s attitude to a standalone Tasmanian football club. You see it everywhere.
Paine’s glory in the Arabian Desert is indisputable evidence of the power of belief.