Tim Paine: Not just another cricket story

Tim Paine: Not just another cricket story

When Tim Paine was selected as the Australian Test captain, there were clear critics of this move, with some even questioning his place in the side.

Tim Paine
Tim Paine. (Photo by Mark Brake/Getty Images)

‘Irrespective of whether he continues to captain Australia further or not, he can very proudly tell his grandchildren about the fact that he led his nation through a turbulent time, a time when everybody was really waiting for them to slip’.

On 13th of July 2010, a certain Steven Smith from New South Wales and a certain Tim Paine from Tasmania were presented their Test caps at the Lord’s. You know what happened next. The former went on to become an all-time great and drew comparisons from the ‘The Don’ himself. The latter went, well, nowhere.

This is the story of that nowhere guy, Tim Paine, who became the captain of the Australian Test Side and achieved what even Ricky Ponting and Michael Clark couldn’t – retain ‘The Ashes’ in England.

Tim Paine’s life turned upside down when on 28 March 2018, he was handed Australia’s captaincy. A player who had played just 9 Test matches in nearly eight years and was thinking of retirement from professional cricket was suddenly the 46th captain of the Australian national Test team. A few months later, he was also given the reins of the One-day side.

Five of the nine above mentioned matches came just a few months back in the preceding home Ashes where he scored a pretty good 192 runs in 6 innings at a healthy average of 48. This earned him a ticket to South Africa for the Test Series. What happened in South Africa will be a blot on Australian Cricket for time immemorial, but it also gave a golden chance to Tim Paine to show everyone that he has it in him. After Steve Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were found involved in the Ball-Tampering scandal in the 3rd Test match at Cape Town, they were suspended by Cricket Australia.

Before the 4th match at Johannesburg, Tim Paine was selected as the man to lead Australia. Trevor Hohns, Australia Chief Selector was later quoted by ESPN Cricinfo as saying, ”Within about five minutes we had made up our mind, and what led us to Tim was simply, we thought he was the right person – he was touted as a leader previously. We went through the other candidates that could possibly do it and immediately we just came up with Tim”.

Just like that, Paine became the man in charge and the central figure of Australian Cricket. His first Test as the captain didn’t go down as he would’ve hoped. Australia were in a state of disarray as the Proteas humiliated them and won the Test match by a huge margin of 492 runs, winning the series 3-1, after being down 0-1. The series loss would have hurt them surely, but what hurt more was the respect they had lost in between the series.

In Search Of Respect

Tim Paine
Tim Paine. (Photo by Mark Brake – CA/Cricket Australia/Getty Images)

Justin Langer, one of Australia’s finest, was appointed the head coach of the national cricket team in May the same year. A month later, they led Australia in the One Day series versus England in England. Unlike any previous Australian sides, they were not playing just to win. They wanted to earn that lost respect back. For starters, there was a fine line drawn between abuse and banter. They wanted to play fierce but remain ‘good blokes’ on and off the field.

11 days, 5 One Days, the series ended with 5-0 in favour of England. Australia didn’t seem to present any kind of challenge to their opposition. In the process, they were hit for 481 runs in the 3rd match at Trent Bridge, the highest total in an ODI innings till date.

The closest they came to winning a match was in Manchester in the last ODI, where they were robbed by Jos Butler and Adil Rashid. Tim Paine, both as captain and a batsman, disappointed, hitting just 36 runs in 5 innings. The Aussies also lost the lone T20I. This was the last time Paine was seen in the shorter formats. The ODI captaincy was passed on to Aaron Finch, who was already captaining the national T20 side.

Baptism By Fire

Tim Paine and Usman Khawaja
Tim Paine and Usman Khawaja. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Tim Paine’s next assignment was Pakistan in the UAE, their fortress. The 2 match Test series wasn’t going to be easy for the Australians without their batting mainstay David Warner and Steve Smith. 1st Test in Dubai – Australia were given a target of 462 in the 4th innings. At the end of day 4, they were 3 for 136 in 50 overs. Usman Khawaja was batting on 50 off 120 balls and giving him company from the other end was Travis Head on 36 off 75 deliveries.

With 326 runs more required on the last day of a typical Asian wicket against arguably Pakistan‘s best spinner, a win for the hosts seemed convincing. Sridharan Sriram, Australia’s spin bowling coach, tried putting some positivity in the dressing room and said, ”Tomorrow I think, we’ve got a great chance to make those guys repent their decision not to put us back in again. Everything is in our favour as I see it”. He also talked about how the expectation for Pakistan to win the game was so much more than it was for the Australians to save it.

Day 5 saw 89.5 overs of pure Test match cricket. One team batting like its life was on the line and the other bowling desperately to finish the game. Khawaja kept the Pakistanis at bay while playing an innings of a lifetime and probably the to-be highlight of his career. When he got out on 141 off 302, Pakistan sniffed a victory but another hurdle had to be crossed.

Captain Tim Paine was out there in the middle slowly taking the lives out of the opposition bowlers. His idea was simple- block, block and block. He remained not out on 61 off 194 balls and made sure the match ended in a draw. Gerard Whateley, famous Australian broadcaster, later remarked, “…. as storylines, it hit the perfect stones for the starting point of a new era”.

In 2nd Test in Abu Dhabi, Pakistan, batting first, were at 5 for 57 inside 22 overs but Australia couldn’t capitalize on it and let the innings, the match, and the series slip away. Although Pakistan won the series 1-0, the draw in Dubai was a huge achievement given the circumstances of the match and Cricket Australia in general.

One Of Those Summers

Virat Kohli and Tim Paine shake hands
Virat Kohli and Tim Paine shake hands. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Next up was the Border-Gavaskar trophy in December-January. Australia were up against the No.1 side in Test Cricket in the biggest event of their home summer. Against India, naturally, most of Australia’s and media’s attention was on Virat Kohli, the best batsman on the planet. Tim Paine, in the strategy meeting before the series, came up with sort of a rule.

He said, “He’s (Virat) gonna go two ways. He is either gonna come up and look for a fight or he’s gonna go to blokes he knows and try and be all mates with. So, either way, I want him completely ignored. I don’t want anyone to be engaging with him. We just flat out ignore him.”

1st match in Adelaide– It was advantage Australia after they bowled India out cheaply in the 1st innings, despite Cheteshwar Pujara’s defiant 123. Once again though, the batters didn’t seize the opportunity and left too much for themselves in the 4th innings. India won the match by 31 runs and took the lead in the series.

2nd match in Perth– In short, this was the perfect comeback by Australia. The Aussie batsmen stuck on the wicket and stitched partnerships to get to a good first innings total. Besides Kohli, who hit yet another century on Australian soil, Indian batting faltered and lost the game by 146 runs. The most interesting passage of the game, however, was the banter between Tim Paine and Virat Kohli which reached its peak in Australia’s 2nd innings. Paine was later revealed as saying, ”I broke my own thing (the idea to ignore the Indian captain on the field)”.

3rd match in Melbourne– India learned from its mistakes in the previous game and brought havoc upon the Australians at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Led by Cheteshwar Pujara, Indian batsmen inflicted nearly 170 overs of torture on the Aussie bowlers and the hosts never really recovered from it and lost the game by 137 runs. With the win, the Border-Gavaskar trophy was retained by India. The Tim Paine-Rishabh Pant babysitting banter and that Jasprit Bumrah’s slow yorker to dismiss Shaun Marsh needs no iteration.

4th match in Sydney – If not for the persistent rain, India, who won the series 2-1, would’ve widened the difference to 3-1. Such was the assault by their batsmen, led again by Cheteshwar Pujara, who scored his 3rd century of the series and Rishabh Pant. The Australians were just not able to cope up, but anyways, the match ended in a draw.

The Sri Lanka tour of Australia in January-February, 2019 helped Tim Paine’s new team lessen the humiliation of losing two consecutive Test series and end the home summer with a bang. A few debutants, Kurtis Patterson and Jhye Richardson were tried along with the return of Joe Burns in the mix. Australia won both the Test matches quite comfortably, with the island nation not putting forward any substantial challenge.

All That Matters

Tim Paine. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

1 August 2019– This is when ‘The Ashes’ started in England. Just two weeks had passed since England won the Cricket World Cup ”by the barest of margins”, when the two sides locked horns for the grandest competition in all of sports history, a rivalry matched by no other. It also marked the return of David Warner, Cameron Bancroft and modern cricket’s very own Bradman, Steve Smith in white clothing.

A hard-fought series, the series, very rightly, read two all, with the 1st match at Edgbaston and 4th match at Old Trafford being won by Australia, the 3rd match at Headingley and 5th match at The Oval won by England while the 2nd match at Lord’s finished as a draw due to continuous rain interruptions.

No doubt Ashes’19 will be remembered for the revival of Steve Smith, the Ben Stokes’ Headingley heist, the oncoming of Marnus Labuchagne, the consistency of Pat Cummins and some nail-biting finishes, amid all the chaos, was Tim Paine, leading his team to a glorious chapter. It had been 18 years since the last time an Australian side managed to take way the Urn from the shores of England. Ricky Ponting couldn’t do it. Michael Clark couldn’t do it. The nowhere guy named Tim Paine did it.

The summer of 2019-20 was completely dominated by the Aussies as they decimated Pakistan in the Test series and then whitewashed their neighbours, New Zealand in the 3 match Test series. When Tim Paine was selected as the Australian Test captain, there were clear critics of this move, with some even questioning his place in the side. With the success of his Ashes campaign followed by a faultless home summer season, he has put all those critiques to rest.

Tim Paine’s captaincy record, as of now, is – Matches 19, Won 10, Lost 6, Drew 3. Irrespective of whether he continues to captain Australia further or not, he can very proudly tell his grandchildren about the fact that he led his nation through a turbulent time, a time when everybody was really waiting for them to slip.

Paine never shied away from any mistake he committed (for instance, the Headingley Test where he let Ben Stokes run singles at the end of the last few overs) and that is the sign of a good leader.