In one of the darkest days of Australian cricket, the team needed someone with composure, a calm head, and someone who could absorb all the pressure. Tim Paine indeed was a surprise selection for captaincy. He took over in bizarre circumstances – on day four of the Cape Town Test – when Steven Smith had admitted to plotting and executing, changing the condition of the ball – along with Cameron Bancroft and David Warner.
Result of that and the next match at Johannesburg seemed redundant as the Australian trio had dug a hole for themselves so deep that it was going to be difficult for them and the entire team to see light at the end of it.
Since being appointed captain, many results may not have gone in Australia’s favour, but one knew it was just a matter of time before Australia found its feet again and get the results ticking for them once again. The bans of Smith and Warner gave an opportunity for someone else to take the responsibility of scoring runs. Usman Khawaja, Shaun Marsh and even Aaron Finch took more responsibility and got crucial runs at vital junctures, which was imperative as it was important to find out Australia’s temperament without two of their star players.
Paine’s ODI captaincy lasted just one series in England, which ended in being whitewashed, after which his focus shifted to just Tests. His first big assignment was the series against Pakistan in the UAE – a venue where not many teams outside the subcontinent have been successful. After a gutsy draw in the first Test, Australia were demolished in the second. However, there were a few good individual performances, like Khawaja’s ton and Nathan Lyon’s eight wickets in a match, which would have given them confidence going into the home series against India.
With no Warner or Smith, there was a glaring hole in Australia’s top-order. After all, Smith and Warner average 128.16 and 49.5 respectively when they take on India at home. More than the runs, it is their presence in the batting line-up that would have given the Aussies a huge boost, at least psychologically. However, India were no pushovers. They had fought hard in every Test in South Africa and England and were determined to make Australia sweat for every run and wicket.
In most or in fact all the series India have played in Australia, it is the visitors who got dominated from the word go. However, with a weakened side, it was the Aussies who were gasping for air as India were all over them and despite a morale boosting win at Perth, Australia lost the series for the first time against India at home. While they were expected to beat Sri Lanka at home in the following series, it is the ease at which they beat them that gave the entire team much needed confidence.
…which brings us to the current scheme of things.
Smith and Warner were welcomed back with open arms (Why wouldn’t they?) after their bans and were right away drafted into the World Cup squad. The duo showed what Australia missed that one year, where they slumped to as low as No 6 in the ODI rankings – their lowest in 34 years.
Paine now has a full Test squad at his disposal. He has seen life without Smith and Warner and now has a chance to witness how things could get better with his two star batsmen around. In their absence, he led the team well, churned out results but has also slumped to crushing defeats be it at Johannesburg or Abu Dhabi. He also saw his side on the wrong side of the records, when he captained the side that suffered a humiliating 5-0 ODI whitewash at the hands of England.
Things can only get better for him.
For someone, who contemplated retirement from the game and took a job with Kookaburra not too long ago, Paine has come a long way already. Now, after being neglected for many years, largely due to injuries, he now has a chance to lead the side in The Ashes, which is an honour in itself. With an impressive armoury at his disposal, this is perhaps the best chance he has to win a Test series.
Needless to say what a huge achievement it will be for Paine to help his side retain The Ashes – especially in England – a country where they have not won a series since 2001. History beckons Paine and he will have to grab it with both hands, just like he has successfully faced everything thrown at him since his return to international cricket in 2018.