As far as sledging goes, Tim Paine’s display late on Day 5 was fairly feeble. It wasn’t funny or witty or clever or even notable for anything aside from the fact Paine was the sledger in question.
It certainly won’t be going down in the annals of Australian cricket for its ugliness, given some of the exchanges which have come before.
In years gone by, Paine calling Ravichandran Ashwin a dickhead, then following it up with some afters about how few friends he has, would hardly have generated a headline. Today it’s rightly drawn condemnation and led to the captain fronting up to a press conference he wasn’t scheduled for to apologise for his behaviour.
Post-Cape Town 2018, the Australian Test team has undergone genuine change from the overly combative, abrasive unit which preceded and led to the ball-tampering incident. Paine has been central to that overhaul, winning plaudits aplenty for the way he and his side conducted themselves on the field – all the while retaining the Ashes overseas and leading the side to the world no.1 ranking.
So to see that same leader turn to churlish, boorish behaviour and throw out a few personal insults was particularly jarring. Surely this wasn’t the same skipper who’s espoused playing with skill, not emotion. Surely a captain whose coach has talked about the difference between banter (good) and abuse (bad) didn’t resort to the latter.
It was, of course, and he did.
Trundling out such dross from behind the stumps would have been poor form in any Test, but it was particularly stupid during this match, a point Geoff Lemon made in The Guardian yesterday.
You would think that during a match when the major story was Indian players being abused from the stands, and making their own stand against it, and when the previous evening Ashwin had been their eloquent spokesman on how hurtful that was – you would think that an Australian hopping into him the very next day would obviously be a terrible look.
Not obvious enough, apparently, although it wasn’t the only case of Paine missing a trick on Day 5.
His three dropped catches, particularly the first, when he grassed Rishabh Pant on three, were crucial in allowing India to secure their unlikely draw, and his field placements and choice of bowlers were awry too.
In the final hour of the match, it took ten overs to hand the ball to Josh Hazlewood, who extracted more reverse swing in Sydney than any other quick, and Pat Cummins was given just two of the last 28 overs. Marnus Labuschagne bowled just as many in that time.
Add in a fine for dissent earlier in the match and it was a Test full of mishaps for the captain, but the one which has been – and will continue to be – most scrutinised is the decision to go verbal at Ashwin, not because it was particularly nasty, but because it went against the playing ethos Tim Paine and Justin Langer have promoted.
Paine acknowledged as much when he fronted the press today, saying he was “bitterly disappointed with the way I went about it”.
“I’m someone who prides themselves on the way I lead this team and yesterday was a poor reflection of the team,” Paine said.
“I let the pressure of the game get to me. It affected my mood and from there, it affected my performance…”
“I’ve had a really poor game as a leader. I’m a captain who wants to enjoy the game and wants to play the game with a smile on their face. Yesterday I fell short of my expectations and our team’s standards.”
Given his record since taking the captaincy, Paine deserves for this to be treated as, to use his words, “a blip on the radar”. Certainly calls for him to be removed as captain over this one incident are premature, knee-jerk in the extreme.
However it’s also worth pointing out some of Langer’s words from a little under a year ago.
“One thing is for sure. It will only take one piece of bad behaviour for people to say, ‘There you go, that’s the Australian cricket team. Their culture is still shit’.”
Even the most cursory glance online will tell you he’s been proven right on that front.
With the fourth match starting in just a couple of days, it’s up to Paine to back up his apology with his on-field behaviour – and win a Test series while he’s at it.