A shocked Travis Head has endorsed Pat Cummins to replace Tim Paine as Test captain after learning of his resignation during a press conference.
Head, whose battle with Usman Khawaja for a middle-order berth was the key Ashes talking point prior to Paine’s bombshell announcement, handled the news professionally.
Paine said he’d been exonerated by a Cricket Australia investigation into a sexting incident involving a former Cricket Tasmania employee in 2017.
As such, the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) released a statement saying it was “saddened” that Paine felt the need to resign over a “historical mistake”.
At the time Head was fronting the media, the bombshell had only just dropped.
“It’s a tough one at the moment to go into any of that because I don’t know the ins and outs, I haven’t spoken to Tim or the boys, I guess over the next 24-to-48 hours we’ll know more about it,” Head told reporters, per quotes published by Adelaide Now.
He insisted Australia’s team culture, which had seemingly been restored under Paine’s leadership, would ensure the matter didn’t become a distraction heading into the first Test.
“It’s hard to comment on what’s going on at the moment, but as a whole, with the culture and where the team’s at, what you see with the [World Cup-winning] T20 squad I think is very similar to the Test squad, so I think Australian cricket as a whole with the guys we’ve got in, we’ve got good people and we’re fully behind everyone,” Head said.
And he said vice-captain Cummins is the obvious candidate to succeed Paine despite some pundits having reservations because of his fast-bowling workload.
Former captain Steve Smith is another option.
“Pat’s been well spoken about, named as vice-captain, it’s hard to go past him … He’s someone who oozes leadership, not only in the way he presents himself and speaks and the way he goes about things and the way he trains, but also when he’s on the field,” Head said.
The ACA defended Paine’s character.
“While respecting the decision made by Tim Paine, the ACA is saddened that he felt the need to resign from the captaincy of the Australian Test team,” an ACA statement read.
“While regrettable, this was an historical mistake that was a private matter between consenting individuals. Tim fully cooperated in an integrity investigation by Cricket Australia in 2018 in which he was exonerated.
“Tim humbly recognised the respect that comes with the Australian captaincy and his resignation reflects the esteem in which he held the role that he served so well in a trying period for Australian cricket.
“Tim’s captaincy has been regarded throughout the cricket world as playing a crucial role in restoring pride back in the Australian team, both in their performance and the spirit in which they play the game.
“While Tim has clearly made a mistake, he will continue to have the full and unequivocal support of the ACA.”
Elsewhere, Australia’s women’s captain Meg Lanning was likewise stunned by the breaking news.
“It was a bit of a shock reading some of the headlines that have just come out,” she told ABC Radio.
“I haven’t read a whole lot so I don’t know the ins and outs – it’s obviously a moving situation.
“It’s not an ideal situation for Tim personally or Australian cricket but it’s a reminder of the standards and behaviours expected of Australian cricketers and when that doesn’t happen it can change quickly.
“The way I see it is to make sure you follow really high standards and ensure those around you are doing that as well.”
Asked if the team would welcome him back as a player, Lanning said: “I guess that would come down to the team itself and the way they’re looking at it. It’s the team’s call and what the best thing is for them and Australian cricket as well – there are so many stakeholders involved, the game, the fans, the players and the parties involved.
“It’s a complicated situation but I’m sure they’ll work through that and decide the best options for Tim, and the team and Australian cricket as well.”
Meanwhile, SEN journalist Gerard Whateley claimed that Cummins’ ascension to Australian cricket’s top job would merely be moved forward, albeit in “wretched circumstances”.
“Pat Cummins will captain,” Whateley said on radio.
“This is probably the only part of the timing which works. I think in recent months, but certainly in recent weeks, it had been determined within Australian cricket that Pat Cummins would be the next Test captain, whenever that time arose.
“And the broad expectation was that Paine would retire at the end of this Ashes season rather than do the Test tours next year.
“It’s just as well that that part of it had privately been resolved because if we were to cast our minds back three months, it was very uncertain who the next captain was going to be and they would have been making a shotgun decision.”
Cummins would become the first fast bowler since 1958 to captain the Test team if chosen.
Whateley was blindsided by Paine stepping down.
“There will be a national sense of shock and trying to take it in and to comprehend it and then to forecast what happens next,” he said.
“It’s extraordinarily difficult to take in so instantly and rapidly.
“The nature of it, it’s stunning, it runs completely counter to the manner in which Tim has always conducted himself in the public sphere,” he added.
“He has been a tremendously dignified and respectful captain. When you put two together – that’s two Australian captains in succession that have had to leave office in disgrace, one for what’s happened on the field and one for what’s happened off the field.
“So that’s diabolical for the position that is the Australian captaincy. And that it’s happened two-and-a-half weeks out from an Ashes series – while the cycle will spin violently for two or three days, this is not going to be resolved in two-and-a-half weeks.
“So it will sit extremely heavily over Australian cricket going in [to the series].”
Peter Lalor, a prominent cricket scribe for The Australia, also spoke on SEN and agreed with Whateley that Cummins “was always going to be the next Test captain”.
It’s come a little bit quicker than anticipated,” Lalor said.
“The board will have to meet and make a final decision on this. I think they would’ve had their ducks in a row already because there would have been concerns about Tim actually making the first Test [due to a neck injury].
“A good board and a good selection panel would’ve planned ahead and at least known where they were going to go on that one.”
If Paine’s position in the team is determined to be untenable, Lalor said either Josh Inglis or Alex Carey, who were both named in an Australia A squad to face the England Lions in a tour match starting on December 9, could fill the wicketkeeping role.
“I’d just be guessing between those two,” he added.
As expected, the news prompted a strong reaction on Twitter with many believing that Paine cannot continue in the Test team at all.
I suspect Australia will have to go back to Steve Smith as captain. Pat Cummins would be a deserving candidate but as a large hearted fast bowler who gives every spell everything he has, and plays all three formats, his workload will need to be managed.
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) November 19, 2021
Not only should Tim Paine step down as captain, he should retire from test cricket.
Alex Carey should have been chosen 12 months ago.
— The Oracle (@BigOtrivia) November 19, 2021
Pat Cummins will SURELY be captain now. Can't imagine it going to anyone else.
AND Jimmy Peirson should be given the gloves. #TimPaine can't step down as captain but remain in the team with this hanging over his head. #cricket #ashes
— Michael Atkinson (@kinson88) November 19, 2021
On another note, the Barmy Army is going to have a field day this Summer.
— Veronica Eggleton (@veggleton) November 19, 2021
This was not the news I expected to wake up to ???? https://t.co/hsClXP9vjv
— Alison Mitchell (@AlisonMitchell) November 19, 2021