Calls for Tim Paine’s head are overblown, as are predictions from an overseas expert that his days as the Australian captain are numbered.
I am genuinely grateful to Paine for what he has done for the Australian cricket community in the three years since the Cape Town abomination.
I am equally grateful to Justin Langer and each member of the national team who was open to doing things better.
Paine was the right man at the right time. Just as Australian cricket needed Allan Border to be ‘Captain Cranky’ in the mid-1980s – to grab the team by the neck and drag its performance upwards – post the grating sandpaper scandal, we needed a man like Paine to restore the team’s character.
Paine is a thoroughly decent bloke. If you don’t believe me, listen to his podcast discussions with Mark Howard (The Howie Games) and Wil Anderson (Wilosophy). He comes across as a deep thinker, respectful of the game’s traditions; yet intensely competitive.
The 36-year-old’s mantra is that the Australian cricket team belongs to the public, not to the players. Until the SCG Test, he exhibited exactly the kind of temperament we needed in a national captain following the game’s biggest contemporary crisis.
Should further convincing be required, who else would call an unscheduled press conference to hold himself accountable for his own behaviour and apologise?
So did Paine overstep that mythical line in his exchange with Ravi Ashwin late on Day 5?
Just two summers ago, Paine was lauded for standing up to Virat Kohli’s provocations. Indeed, during that series, the stump mics overheard him saying to Murali Vijay, “I know he’s your captain, but you can’t seriously like the bloke.”
At the time, Paine’s banter was upheld as the zenith of non-abusive ‘chat’ which did not cross the line into sledging.
So what is the difference now? In both instances, Paine was clearly gaming his opponent by trying to break his concentration.
Was it the use of “dickhead” that provoked the social media outrage? Was it because there was, perhaps, more venom in Paine’s tone? Or was it because Paine’s team were underdogs in 2018-19, whereas – absent India’s truly stirring fightback – the Aussies should have already been celebrating a series lead when Paine allowed his frustrations to find a voice?
Paine’s is a great story of resilience. Recognised early as a potential long-term Australian Test wicketkeeper, he suffered a devasting finger injury while batting in an exhibition match.
After multiple operations, he hovered on the edge of the selectors’ collective consciousness for years, before finally being recalled to the national team for the Ashes series of 2017-18. He wasn’t even playing first class cricket for Tasmania at the time.
And then, in the fractious wake of the sandpaper scandal, a nation turned its wistful eyes to Tim. Whereupon Paine has served with distinction and done much to restore the reputation of the Australian cricket team – both in terms of its performance and its behaviour.
Yes, Paine had a bad day on Monday. Perhaps a bad Test even.
But that’s no reason to rip the baggy green from his head and stomp on it. He’s earned a more considered appraisal than that.