“At 36, Tim Paine has two options: to soldier on until the selectors have no real choice but to drop him or to make a gracious exit to the applause of a grateful nation,” writes “The Gadfly” columnist ROBERT MACKLIN.
TIM Paine, the Australian cricket captain has done his country a great service and should feature prominently in the next honours list.
But cricket is essentially a game about timing; and the time has come for Tim to declare his innings closed.
His career has been a kind of poetry in motion. At 16, he was the youngest ever to score a $10,000 Cricket Australia contract in 2000. At the time he said: “These new contracts are a great idea. It’s good to give young players something to show them that they’re in the back of the minds of the administrators and the coaches.”
His good “cricket brain” and steady hand on the field suggested “foreman material” and he captained most of his young teams as he rose through the ranks. He first played for Tasmania in 2005 and not only impressed behind the stumps, he peeled off a one-day century followed by a double-century in his next innings.
However, at the Test level, Queanbeyan’s Brad Haddin was firmly ensconced as a wicket-keeper who could score much-needed quick runs in the middle order. It was not until he was injured in 2010 that Tim had his chance to show his wares in a series against Pakistan and then India before Haddin resumed his place for the 2010-11 Ashes series.
But he had tasted life among the elites and for the next six years, despite injuries he struggled on until at 33 in 2017 he’d pretty much decided to retire. That was when the Tasmanian fast bowler turned State coach, Adam Griffith talked him out of it and in a surprise move the Test selectors chose him over the better credentialed Matthew Wade. Nevertheless, when the team set out for South Africa under captain Steve Smith he had still not proved himself as a settled member of the elite fraternity.
Then came disaster. To the astonishment and horror of the cricketing world TV cameras picked up the images of young Australian opener Cameron Bancroft rubbing sandpaper (kept in his underpants) on the ball to assist its swing in flight. Smith confessed that he and “the leadership group” were party to the cheating. He stood down and along with vice-captain David Warner (and Bancroft) he was subsequently banned for a year.
Tim Paine took the mantle and with it the anguish of Australian fans and international followers of the great game. With the support of a new, respected coach in Justin Langer and the brilliant Pat Cummins as vice-captain he set about restoring the team and the country’s pride on and off the field.
It was a long, hard road. Australia lost an ODI series to England 5-0 followed by Test losses to Pakistan and India. But then came the slow turnaround with wins against Sri Lanka, then in 2019 he retained the Ashes in a series in England, the first captain to do so since Steve Waugh in 2001. Back in the winning circle, he led the team to more victories against Pakistan and NZ, now ranked the top Test team in the world.
By then he welded Smith and Warner back into one of the better Australian teams of recent cricketing history. More importantly, he had established an on-field cordiality between his players and the opposition not seen for a generation.
But while he had scored his 150th dismissal – in his 33rd Test, the fastest ever – with a brilliant catch of Indian batsman Pujara, the strain had begun to tell. He dropped two others in the third match; his batting was inconsistent and at one stage he not only “sledged” the ageing Ravi Ashwin, but swore at an umpire.
Indeed, he admitted he “was made to look a fool” and was “bitterly disappointed” at his own performance.
At 36, he has two options: to soldier on until the selectors have no real choice but to drop him or to make a gracious exit to the applause of a grateful nation.
In his wake, Smith should return to the captaincy, the brilliant Alex Carey (a true captain in the making) should take the gloves and be part of the rebuilding with Cameron Green and Will Pucovski at its core.
Unlike some of his colleagues, Tim’s game didn’t attract the million-dollar bids from the 20/20 game – but that simply means he should be invited to join the ranks of Cricket Australia as an administrator with the best possible experience of the game and all its wild ups and downs.
We should be so lucky.