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Opinion

Tim Paine's time as captain is done as Australia crumble to humiliation against India

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Expert
19th January, 2021
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It doesn’t feel like all that long ago India were rolled for 36 in Adelaide and anything less than a 4-0 series win for Australia would have looked ordinary.

But here we are, just a few weeks later, and India will return home with the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, having pulled off one of the greatest underdog victories in cricketing history.

In fact, it’ll go down as potentially Australia’s worst-ever home summer. A 2-1 loss to a side with more players out than available. The tourists brought a mammoth squad to Australia and used virtually every single player.

Thank goodness they did, because it has given us one hell of a story – one which Aussie, Indian and neutral fans alike will tell for decades to come.

An unheralded bowling attack, missing potentially seven who would be ahead of all of them, limiting the Aussies at their Brisbane fortress. An international off spinner who hadn’t bowled in a first class game for years holding his own, while an attack with a combined 13 wickets in Test cricket before the match managed to take 20.

The Gabba, a ground Australia haven’t lost at for more than three decades. The stats behind this victory are simply enormous, to the point where they almost don’t make sense.

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For Australia, this was the unloseable Test. At full strength, they somehow found a way though, not applying themselves with the bat or the ball, and being soundly beaten in all aspects over a demanding four-Test series.

The only time Australia held a momentary candle over the Indians was when they were trounced in South Australia. But even that simply turned the tide of a Test which had mainly been played in India’s favour.

Pat Cummins of Australia celebrates

Pat Cummins. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

And so, after a record-breaking, history-making victory for India with more storylines than you could poke a stick at, Australia are left to reset and rebuild with a series against South Africa in an undetermined location on the horizon.

If they thought playing India was tough, South Africa will bring an equal challenge, looking to build on the mental wounds inflicted by the current group of plucky tourists.

There were only two bright spots out of this Test for Australia – Josh Hazlewood taking five wickets in the first innings and Marnus Labuschagne scoring a century.

But like they have done all series, Australia struggled to play with any real intent. They failed to push the pace in the first innings, failed to get their bowling rotations right when India came out to bat, and then let the game amble on during Day 4.

As it turns out, Tim Paine not declaring was the right option, because even the score on the board wasn’t enough – but the kicker is that it should have been.

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The pitch wasn’t that easy to bat on, but India – led by the gutsy Cheteshwar Pujara and Rishabh Pant – found a way to make it look so as they led their team to a famous win.

Nathan Lyon again struggled to make things happen on a final-day pitch, finishing the series with just nine wickets at 55, while Mitchell Starc, who many had called for to be dropped before the Test (including this columnist) went wicketless at almost five runs per over yesterday, to finish the series with 11 wickets at a tick over 40.

He had no control over his line or length, no accuracy or consistency, and combined with dropped catches and some, ah, let’s call it unAustralian-like fielding, let the game at first crawl, then run away from them at warp speed.

Tim Paine’s captaincy and keeping has to be also up for debate, and surely he and a few others may be staring at the end of their Test careers.

Whichever way you spin it, losing the series in this fashion was an unmitigated disaster.

And it’s after series like this when heads roll.

Tim Paine of Australia reacts after dropping a catch

Tim Paine (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Sure, the selectors have to be careful to not just wipe the team completely, but with Pat Cummins, Steve Smith and Labuschagne suitable leadership material, while also having the experience and expertise of David Warner (in a non-official leadership capacity) in the field, the time for Paine to captain the country is gone.

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His keeping hasn’t been up to scratch and some of his bowling changes have been baffling, including not using Cummins during the final session of the Sydney Test, or allowing Labuschagne and Cameron Green to bowl just four overs combined during the fifth day’s play in Brisbane.

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It was unreal that he refused to go to other options when his main bowlers simply couldn’t get the job done against Pujara, Pant and earlier, the young gun Shubman Gill who made a fabulous 91.

Again, finding a balance in shaking the side up will be critical, as will form in the Sheffield Shield when it returns following the Big Bash, but Australia can’t afford to wheel out the same XI next time they take to the field in whites.

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Players like Michael Neser, Jhye Richardson, James Pattinson, Matt Renshaw, and even Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja will be gunning for spots.

The only thing for sure is that, surely, a movie is already in production of one of the greatest upsets in cricket history.

That, and that the Aussie team have more challenges ahead. Challenges they should face under new management.