It’s well past midnight – on a ‘school night’ – and I’m sitting in my home study, leaning forward with my red eyes transfixed on the scene from Headingley.
The Aussies have squandered a run-out chance and burned an otherwise match-winning DRS review. As (future captain) Pat Cummins strides towards Ben Stokes, I know that this delivery will likely determine whether the Ashes are won or whether they still hang in the tantalising balance.
The ball is short. Stokes swings from the shoulders. The ball scuttles through the infield towards the boundary. Sir Ben throws his head back and bellows in primordial conquest. The Aussies wander from the field of battle with the kind of soul-crushing aimlessness that comes with losing a Test match they should surely have won.
Turning off the TV, my house falls silent. I tip-toe into the bedroom and try to sleep.
But while I’m tossing and turning, Tim Paine is standing up.
Recognising the insidious despondency taking root in his team’s dressing room, Tim finds the words he needs to put what has just happened into context:
“I just want to say, f— that’s going to f—ing hurt a lot, no doubt, for the next couple of days. However, as I said to a few of you boys out there, we’ve still got two Test matches. So let this f—ing thing sting. We had our chances to win that game and we f—ed it up.
S**t happens. We can talk about that another time. Let’s take time, stick together … it’s not game over, it’s not toys out of the cot, it’s a game of cricket. Shit f—ing happens. Yes, it was important and we wanted it. … we should have f—ing won it. Let’s move on and start getting our heads around winning the next two f—ing Tests.”
It may not be Churchillian. It’s probably more Allan Border-esque. But it was what was needed in the moment. And history shows that the Aussies found the strength to rebound and win the following Test at Old Trafford and retain the cherished urn.
His call to arms. Surely Tim Paine’s finest.
Now Paine finds himself at a crossroads in his career and in his life. A crisis of his own making, to be sure. But if I knew him, I’d try to find the words he needs to hear to put what has just happened into context.
I just want to say, Tim, that giving up the captaincy and taking an indefinite break from the game is going to bloody hurt a lot, no doubt. You stuffed up. So let that bloody sting. S**t happens. You and your admirable wife have already talked about it. You took your time, you stuck together. It’s not game over, it’s not toys out of the cot.
It may be your Test cricket career. S**t bloody happens. Yes, another summer was important and you wanted it. You shouldn’t have sent those text. But let’s move on and start getting your head around whatever is left for you in the game of cricket and in your life.
That’s my call to arms. A call to place our collective arms around Tim Paine and pray that he’s okay.
For what he gave us during his three years as captain, we owe him that.