While some sections of the British press took a measure of glee over Tim Paine and Australia’s pre-Ashes predicament, there were others who saw the sexting scandal as a potentially galvanising force for the hosts.
Paine stood down from the Test captaincy on Friday, admitting to sending lewd messages to a Cricket Tasmania employee in 2017, before he was made Australian captain.
Cricket Australia ruled he had not broken the code of conduct when they found out in 2018, but accepted his resignation on Friday.
His tearful resignation – the second such example after Steve Smith’s blubbering departure – leaves Pat Cummins on the brink of becoming Australia’s 47th Test captain. The English didn’t miss Paine in their reaction, with many noting his blunt assessment that the seies would go ahead with or without Joe Root, when the England captain was said to be wavering
The UK media was split over the ramifications for their touring team, with Nick Hoult in The Telegraph saying that when the English laughter subsides, Australia will be a stronger team.
“News of Paine’s resignation stunned England at their training base in Queensland; and shocked Australia, where the Test captain is revered to such an extent he is prefixed with a number, like Presidents of the United States (of which there have been the exact same number). Paine was No 46, a calm father figure in the style of Joe Biden,” wrote Hoult.
“Pat Cummins will almost certainly be No 47 and has the looks, image and modern outlook on climate change and sustainability that would make him a political powerbroker’s dream.
“The fact he is the world’s best fast bowler helps too. While England will be delighted to see their opponents in turmoil so close to the first Test there is also a warning. Paine’s resignation and the promotion of Cummins makes them stronger.
“Even before Paine’s resignation there were flashing red lights that the Ashes was having its galvanising effect on Australian cricket.
“The World Cup win in the UAE was a stunning performance for a bunch of players so recently disillusioned and fed up with the head coach, Justin Langer.
“Worryingly for England, Langer appeared to have listened and tempered his controlling side.”
Cummins would need to break a fast bowling glass ceiling – the last paceman trusted with the job was Ray Lindwall for one match in 1956.
“There are always concerns over injuries with fast bowlers but Cummins is a magnificent athlete and rarely misses games now,” wrote Hoult.
He said Cummmins will be strongest in his early days as leader, “when he will be allowed to stamp his mark on the job. He will set the tone with the ball and as the leading fast bowler will personally take on the responsibility of targeting Joe Root, and taking down the England captain, which is always No 1 on the list of priorities and a fine way to establish his credentials.
“Before today England would have looked at Paine and seen an Australian captain they could dominate for once. Not now. Cummins can intimidate with the ball and will have a group of players buying into a siege mentality following Paine’s resignation. They will be ready to follow him. ”
However, Scyld Berry, also writing in the Telegraph, felt this could be a “grave and destabilising moment” for the Ashes hosts.
“It is ironic too. Paine was always seen as the safe pair of hands in every sense. Not only a sound wicketkeeper and batsman, but composed and sensible, and therefore the right man to take over from Steve Smith, when he too resigned tearfully, after Sandpaper-gate,” Berry wrote.
Former England captain Michael Atherton, writing in the The Times, wrote: “Cummins’s rise to high office looks like coming sooner than imagined (but) his appointment is not without risk.
“The last time an out-and-out fast bowler captained Australia in Test cricket? Go back more than six decades to Ray Lindwall in 1956. Cummins is sharp and intelligent, but fast bowling is ferociously hard work without the additional strain of captaincy.
“Only 42 days separate the opening day at the Gabba to the end of the series, wherever that may take place: six weeks, five Tests and an incredible physical challenge.
“While Cummins seems now to have got over the injuries that dogged him as a young man, he said recently said that he did not expect Australia’s feared pace attack — Cummins himself, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc — to play in all those five Tests. What then is Australia’s plan B if rest, rotation or injury strikes? England will view any potential upheaval to their advantage.”
Paul Newman, writing in the Daily Mail, focussed on Cricket Australia’s ongoing cultural issues. Paine was, in the wake of Sandpapergate, appointed to the panel charged with a cultural review in the sport.
“It has taken a lot for English cricket’s race crisis to be knocked off the top of the game’s news agenda this week, at least temporarily. But somehow the Aussies managed it on Friday with the sight of yet another disgraced captain resigning in tears,” Newman wrote.
“He was not good enough when Australia appointed him for wont of credible alternatives when accusations of cheating were hanging over Australia more than three years ago and he certainly isn’t good enough now.
“For Cricket Australia stand accused of a cover up that, with echoes of the revelations that have rocked English cricket this week, suggest deeply ingrained cultural problems at the heart of another of cricket’s biggest and most powerful nations.”
Paine, wrote Newman, was “never actually was what Australia thought he would be. Instead of being the safe pair of gloved hands on the tiller they desperately needed, he became a figure of fun who did not contribute much at all as a batsman, keeper or indeed captain.”
For all England’s concern over whether the news will make Australia weaker or stronger, there were a few parting shots as well for a man the English never warmed to.
“With the sweetest of ironies, Paine’s last real gaffe came when he showed a complete lack of empathy to a fellow professional at a time when England were understandably concerned about Australia’s Draconian Covid regulations by saying ‘The first Test will start at Brisbane on December 8 whether Joe Root is there or not,'” wrote Newman.
“The England captain will be at the Gabba, don’t worry about that Tim, but surely you won’t be now. For almost the most laughable part of Friday’s all too familiar emotional staged apology was the bit about Paine still being available for selection for the Ashes. That is, if he can recover from a swollen disc. Truly, you could not make it up.”