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Opinion

Forget Test tons: Tim Paine is Australia's 'Cameo King'

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Expert
23rd December, 2020
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Tim Paine’s man of the match prize against India was his first such international award since 2009. It was fitting Paine received this belated recognition not for a blazing ton, but for a backs-to-the-wall half century.

The Australian Test wicketkeeper has never been an architect of extraordinary innings. He famously went 13 years without scoring a first-class ton and is yet to make a Test century after 32 matches.

Instead, Paine is the cameo king. Few Test batsmen in the world reach 20 as often as Paine – he does so as regularly as Indian star Virat Kohli, England skipper Joe Root and Kiwi gun Kane Williamson.

By this admittedly narrow measure, he is the most consistent Aussie wicketkeeper-batsman in modern history – the percentage of Test innings in which they reach 20.

Tim Paine – 59 per cent
Adam Gilchrist – 58 per cent
Brad Haddin – 50 per cent
Ian Healy – 39 per cent
Peter Nevill – 35 per cent
Matt Wade – 34 per cent
……………………………
Joe Root – 60 per cent
Kane Williamson – 59 per cent
Virat Kohli – 58 per cent

Of course, Gilchrist was vastly superior to Paine with the blade in every possible way. What this above stat illustrates is how often Paine makes a handy contribution.

Tests don’t just hinge on dazzling tons or marauding five-fors. Sometimes, they can be swung by a stubborn 30 or 40, a grafting knock that saps the opposition’s momentum at a key moment.

Tim Paine

(Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Paine doesn’t construct Test-defining tons, but he does excel at chipping in. In Steve Smith, David Warner and Marnus Labuschagne, Australia already have three match-winning batsmen. So they don’t need their wicketkeeper to be mercurial with the blade, just reliable.

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Paine’s main role is to bat for time. The strength of Australia’s top six, and the generous ability of the side’s tail, means he often can provide tremendous value just by holding up an end.

At this he is gifted. Among the current Test wicketkeepers, only two are more difficult to dismiss than Paine.

Balls faced per dismissal among the current Test wicketkeepers:

BJ Watling (NZ) – 95 balls
Mushfiqur Rahim (BANG) – 78 balls
Tim Paine (AUS) – 74 balls
Mohammad Rizwan (PAK) – 66 balls
Wriddhiman Saha (IND) – 65 balls
Shane Dowrich (WI) – 61 balls
Jos Buttler (ENG) – 58 balls
Quinton de Kock (SA) – 57 balls
Niroshan Dickwella (SL) – 47 balls

Once again, this list doesn’t prove Paine is superior to those wicketkeepers below him. But it does underline how his stubborn batting halts the charge of opposition attacks.

This table also highlights why I consider Watling the world’s most valuable Test gloveman. Not only is he brilliant behind the stumps but the Kiwi drives bowlers to madness with his patience, caution and tight defence.

Watling just edges de Kock, who is the closest thing to Gilchrist in the modern game. Following the retirement of Faf du Plessis, the South African keeper is now his side’s most important batsman.

I have no hesitation in ranking Paine as the world’s third-best Test keeper. Three years ago, I barely ranked him as Tasmanian’s third-best keeper.

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When Paine was given a shock recall for the 2017 Ashes, after seven years out of the Test team, I branded his selection a “farce” in this grumpy article for The Roar.

“Tim Paine has a batting average of 19 over the past four Australian first class seasons yet, somehow, he is set to be recalled to Test cricket just weeks away from his 33rd birthday,” I complained.

Nowadays, there’s enough egg on my face to make a humble pie. In those three years since, Paine has arguably been Australia’s third-most influential Test cricketer, after only Steve Smith and Pat Cummins.

During that period, there has been no better Test gloveman in the world, while his batting has been consistent. It is his captaincy which, to my mind, has made him more influential than the likes of Nathan Lyon, David Warner, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc in that time.

Paine was handed a heinously difficult task after the ball tampering scandal.

Australia cricket was at its lowest ebb since the rebel tour to South Africa in the mid-1980s and he, as an ageing wicketkeeper yet to convince many critics, was asked to navigate them to calm and prosperous waters.

Tim Paine

Tim Paine (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Now, Australia are the world’s number one Test team. Not just due to Paine’s calm leadership and elite glovework, but also thanks to his constant 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.

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The kind of knocks which don’t leap off a scorecard, and are far more valued within a team environment than outside of it. Paine, undoubtedly, could become much more proficient at capitalising on his regular starts. And, who knows, he may be starting to do just that, even at the age of 36.

Paine is batting better than ever. Not only does he look in fine touch but the numbers stack up – since the start of last summer, he is averaging 40 in first-class cricket.

That includes two Shield tons. Had his teammates stuck around with him at Adelaide, Paine may just have registered his first Test century.

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Instead he ended on 73*. There have been very, very few more important Test half centuries by an Australian in the past decade.

At 7-111, trailing by 133 runs in the first innings, Australia looked gone. Had Paine not withstood that immense pressure, we may all have spent the last week dissecting an abysmal Australian defeat, instead of poking fun at the Indian collapse.

Paine is not a spectacular batsman, and he never will be. Instead, he is Australia’s ‘Cameo King’.

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