Paine falls short in mid­dle order but greatness looms

Aus­tralia cap­tain may not boast im­pres­sive statis­tics, yet his value goes be­yond num­bers Look to the fact that he hangs around and has no qualms about some­one else tak­ing cen­tre stage

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Fourth Specsavers Ashes Test - By Is­abelle West­bury at Old Traf­ford

Tim Paine is not a Test-cal­i­bre bat­ter. He is the kind of player who, when you shout, “Wicket af­ter lunch, lads,” keeps this tire­some re­frain alive. For the sim­ple fact that it is true. In the first over af­ter lunch on day two, he was gone, prod­ding on nine to Stu­art Broad, safely into the hands of Ja­son Roy at se­cond slip. Scratch that, he was dropped. And the re­prieve al­lowed Paine to re­cover, reset and ap­ply him­self once more. Just like you, on a Satur­day on the com­mon. “Dig in,” you mur­mur un­der your breath.

With Sam Cur­ran drop­ping Paine at mid-on later in the af­ter­noon ses­sion, Eng­land would have to wait un­til the next pe­riod off the field, a pause for con­sump­tion, tea this time. First ball back out and Paine was gone for 58, an­other nick and Jonny Bairstow held on. Only Aus­tralia had put on 123 runs in the in­terim, Steve Smith had an­other land­mark and Aus­tralia were clos­ing in on 400. Paine had been the ju­nior part­ner in a stand of 145 runs but hey, what did he care, he is an Aus­tralia cap­tain on the cusp of re­tain­ing the Ashes away from home. Com­pany shared with only an ex­alted few.

Paine’s in­nings was a curious sight. Fail again and the ques­tions would start, Smith’s reco­ro­na­tion merely a mat­ter of time. And with Smith’s throne re­stored, Paine, surely, mer­its no place in the side. But his con­tri­bu­tion lingers.

In the high-def­i­ni­tion era of au­dio tech­nol­ogy, these days we are af­forded one of the most vis­ceral in­sights into a team’s un­fold­ing dy­namic. Or un­rav­el­ling, in Eng­land’s case. Be­cause for­get num­bers, it is the quan­tity and cal­i­bre of a team’s sledg­ing which is as ac­cu­rate a mea­sure as any of a per­for­mance. And the stump mics, well, they are al­most Or­wellian in their over­ar­ch­ing reach.

“He ran right down the mid­dle there, Ku­mar, about four strides,” we heard Bairstow cry from be­hind the stumps, try­ing to break the vir­tu­ous ve­neer of Paine, ac­cus­ing him of un­der­hand tactics. Bairstow was chirpy. Paine was fair game.

The Aus­tralia cap­tain was av­er­ag­ing un­der 13 in the se­ries while at the op­po­site end, Smith, stripped of that role, was steam­rol­ler­ing on at more than 10 times that num­ber. Here was a chance to play on Paine’s mind.

Bairstow’s tactics soon evolved. “I bet you can’t wait for that salmon fil­let,” tried the York­shire­man in­stead, 20 min­utes be­fore lunch. But Paine played the foil to Smith’s unortho­dox lunge. Soon the sledg­ing be­came more search­ing, adopt­ing a des­per­ate tone. “Catch!” cried Bairstow as Paine blocked the ball, rolling along the floor back to the bowler.

De­spite this tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance, Paine is a fig­ure for the ages and his per­for­mance this Ashes re­flects that. To re­it­er­ate, Paine is no Test-cal­i­bre bat­ter. But that does not mean Paine is no Test-cal­i­bre player.

He is a spe­cial­ist keeper of the old-school sense, or­tho­dox, ban­ished to the harsh hin­ter­lands of do­mes­tic first-class cricket af­ter a brief foray into the Test arena.

His Test re­call came al­most a decade later, for his glove­man­ship first, any bat­ting a use­ful se­cond. And this all be­fore we knew of the dis­as­ter that was to un­fold at New­lands. He had done his time. A ma­ture, ex­pe­ri­enced sage, hoped Aus­tralia’s se­lec­tors.

Now, un­ex­pect­edly as cap­tain, but no less as keeper and part­ner­ship-maker, that is what he has be­come. The num­bers do not lie, but maybe we are not look­ing at the right num­bers. Avert your gaze from the av­er­age of 19 in his past 10 Tests, or that he has no Test cen­tury. Look in­stead to the fact that he hangs around, digs in and has no qualms about some­one else tak­ing cen­tre stage.

He did it in his cap­taincy du­ties, af­ter the Head­in­g­ley mir­a­cle. San­guine, hid­ing what must have been some de­gree of dev­as­ta­tion, with a chuckle and a quip, he knew it was Ben Stokes’s day. So, he said as much. Let him have it, of­fered Paine, you win the bat­tle, but we will still win the war.

So, here we are, at the close of play on day two and Paine has played the kind of in­nings we ap­pre­ci­ated be­fore all statis­tics known to man were avail­able at our fin­ger­tips. The tem­plate is sim­ple, aim for Mike Brear­ley to Smith’s Ian Botham-style feats.

By 3.15pm, Paine, with Smith do­ing his own, oth­er­worldly things, had the mea­sure of Broad. Self-as­sur­ance oozed as Paine carved one to the boundary. There was a time in Aus­tralia’s in­nings when a roar was meant for Smith and Smith alone, but by now Paine was more than a foot­note. Smith dom­i­nated, but Paine held his own.

The mea­sure of a man, a cap­tain, is not how he thrives on suc­cess, but how he fares when the at­ten­tion is not his, how he hides the hu­man envy and does his job, no more, no less and for who knows how much longer.

Be­cause whether you think it de­served or not, Paine, stood aside from the spot­light, is on the cusp of Ashes greatness.

Re­prieve: Aus­tralia cap­tain Tim Paine looks on as he is dropped by Sam Cur­ran

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