DID TIM JUST SAVE CRICKET

ROBERT CRADDOCK P72

Mercury (Hobart) - - FRONT PAGE - SI­MON BEVILAC­QUA

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.

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