With the Australian cricketers back with their respective state teams training as they prepare for a big summer ahead, Test captain Tim Paine was on hand to talk about the upcoming summer, the T20 World Cup, his ambitions of a home-ground Test, how to get Pujara out and more in an online video interview organised by Cricket Australia. Excerpts below:
On the Afghanistan Test
To get someone like Afghanistan out to Australia and help develop cricket in countries like that is a great opportunity. Fingers crossed that one gets up and running. But everyone’s looking forward to the challenge that India are going to bring. Afghanistan will bring different challenges with all their mystery spinners. It will be a challenging Test summer for us.
Preference of facing India at Perth or Gabba first up?
I’m not too fussed. Both of those wickets are excellent Test wickets. The Gabba has been for a very, very long time. We have to look back at the last time we played a Test match against India at the Perth stadium, I thought that was one of the great Test matches to watch. Given both of the sides’ pace attacks, either of those will be enthralling for spectators and television audiences to watch. Both exciting prospects but that decision is out of my hand, that’s for sure. If I had to choose, I’d say Blundstone Arena down in Tasmania!
Should Perth perhaps host the Boxing Day Test instead of MCG?
Given the current circumstances, I dare say that everything is well and truly on the table. We’re hopeful that everywhere we play, come summer time we’ll be able to have crowds, we don’t know. It’s a difficult one or anyone to answer because there is so much changing week to week, day to day. Give it 3-4 months, we don’t know what it’s going to look like. From a players’ point of view, we want to be playing in front of big crowds at the best venues and a big day like Boxing Day is something that everyone looks forward to. Big part of that is playing at the MCG, so, fingers crossed, if things go well enough we can do that. But we’re spoilt for choices here in Australia - some world-class stadiums. If something had to change, we’ve got plenty of options.
Would you like to play a Test at Blundstone Arena before your career is up?
I’d obviously like to play a Test at my home ground. Having said that, it’s not something I lose too much sleep over. I love playing Test cricket for Australia, no matter where I’m playing. I suppose it’s something you’d love to tick off over your career is play a home Test match. To be captain down here would make it even more special. We’ll wait and see what happens in the next year or two, see how I’m going. Bellerive down here has some wonderful facilities. I think it would be a great Test venue, particularly to watch on television, with the ball moving around. Seen it a number of times there, often the best Test matches to watch. So, I think Test match cricket will be a great product with the wicket as it is now.
On the sacking of Kevin Roberts
It was obviously very disappointing. I’ve got to know Kevin really well on a personal note. He’s been great support to me in my time as captain. From a personal point of view I’m certainly sad to see him go. I’ve spoken to him and let him know that. The support that he gave me behind the scenes was brilliant and I couldn’t thank him enough for that. Obviously, it’s disappointing that he has had to move on. There were some areas where he was doing a terrific job. It was a very difficult time to be administering any sport as we’ve seen a lot of guys have lost jobs from the CEOs to people being laid off. It’s a difficult time for everyone. For Kevin in particular, one of the reasons why I want to ring him in because it was reported a few times that he had a poor relationship with the players, he certainly didn’t. Kevin was well liked and well-respected among our playing group. I think it was important to let him know that. I was disappointed with some of the reporting of that in the media.
Are you concerned with all the cost-cutting and the laying off?
I wouldn’t say I’m concerned about it. What will happen and what has to happen will happen. Cricket Australia and the ACA are working hard behind the scenes to make sure the best deal is done. For Cricket Australia, the players want a good deal also. But I think as it always does, it works its way out.
How is the financial situation going to affect you guys?
It’s probably inevitable that things will change in terms of how big our group is and the support-staff around it. I think that’s no different from any other sport or any other Test nations. We spoke briefly about it on a Zoom call last week or about two weeks and said it’s a great opportunity and things are going to change and players and teams are going have to adapt. We are seeing it as an opportunity as the team that can adapt first to those changes and get off to a good start in the next Test series. That’s really important to us - being able to adapt. Players are going to have to become more reliant on each other and themselves and finding ways to get things done without the huge numbers of supporters we’ve been lucky to have over the last number of years. It’s disappointing certainly from an aspect where people are losing their jobs, we don’t want to see that. We’ve certainly lost some really good people throughout this period. Flipside of that is it’s a great opportunity for us to be able to adapt quicker than anyone else and be able to help each other improve. Everyone’s has got to do a little bit extra and pull together. That was it’ll be exciting for everyone and a great opportunity.
Any advice for people who are going through this tough phase, drawing from experience when you considered other options when you were on the fringes of the Tasmania squad
I haven’t been in a situation where they are. It’s a sad situation not just in cricket, but around the world at the moment. A lot of people are losing jobs, it’s not a place any of us want to be in. It’s a great opportunity for people to evolve, for people to show resilience, for people to come together and support friends and family and just people generally out there that you know are struggling. At times like this, Australians in particular are great in coming together and helping. Cricket Australia, the players and the staff and the ACA have certainly got to do that so that regular people can be around on the streets. It’s a really difficult situation for everyone. The best thing we can do is to pool together and try and help each other as much as you can.
Would you draw a distinction between the relationship that you had with the guys in the national team, resourcing and supporting the Test side in particular and I suppose the more negotiating type relationship that needed to exist with the ACA?
There is no doubt there is a different aspect to it, absolutely. But again I think, at times it has been reported that the ACA and CA and the players are fighting and I don't think that is always the case. When things like this happen, there is a negotiation. It doesn't mean that it's bad blood and the players hate Cricket Australia and Cricket Australia hate the players and the ACA doesn't like this and that. At the moment everyone is working together to try and make the best possible deal and as it always has it will get done at some stage.
You spoke about the reduction in support staff and how it might lead to you having to use the side-arm for Steve Smith and Marnus. You might not have a selector on board. Does that add to your responsibility suddenly?
Not really. 2020, there is great technology as we are seeing with this press conference. Communication is a huge part of Justin Langer's coaching, of my captaincy and obviously is Trevor and George's as selectors, that is something we have worked really hard to improve and that is something we want to maintain going forward. As long as the players are getting the same message from all of the leadership group or selection panel, it shouldn't be a problem. Whether that's done with one person over the phone with one person and then followed up by Justin or myself on tour face to face, I think it will be fine.
Are you looking at the West Indies-England series as a blueprint or will it be different in Australia?
It certainly is going to be different. I don't think there is going to be crowds over there but as I said earlier, it is constantly moving whether that is daily or weekly. I am fascinated like anyone is to watch some Test cricket again and to see exactly how the West Indies and England series is going to work and the different things they are going to be doing that haven't been done before in cricket. It's going to be interesting, it is going to be certainly for someone like me and Justin and the Australian international players are going to watch really closely to be able to prepare yourself for might be happening. Again, I have found that if you lock your way into one way of thinking at the moment, then the next week or the next day it changes. The keyword that we have spoken about a few times is being able to adapt and the best teams will do that whatever is thrown at them.
Your thoughts on the new rules brought in by the ICC?
That is something we will have to deal with. The rules have been changed, whether you like them or not, it is what it is. Everyone is on the same playing field, they apply to everyone. To be able to adapt to that the quickest, what I do know is that whether you have a replacement player, you can shine the ball. It's irrelevant if you are not playing well and delivering your skills. I'll get my focus on what we can control, which is playing as well as we possibly can and again we will have to adapt to a role with rule-changes because we are in an interesting time to be living, let alone playing international cricket.
It is going to be quite a big break between your last Test and this summer. Have you and Justin talked about any different things you can to try and manage that as best as possible?
The next Test we play is our summer. We are really lucky that we have a pre-season. We've got all our national contracted players back to their states which again is a great thing for both them and for all our young domestic players around the country to be learning of like Steve Smith, in New South Wales, and Marnus in Queensland. For state cricketers, it is really exciting to have the international quality players back around our state groups. And for our international players, I think it is a great thing. One, you get a mental freshen-up which your David Warners and Pats and Steves never get. So, the mental freshen-up is a real positive but also these guys are getting it all for pre-season, getting their bodies right which they haven't been able to do for a number of years. Our Australian cricketers will be as well prepared as they have ever been come their first game, whether that's Test cricket, one-day cricket or T20 cricket.
Having had this sort of break, do you think it might change things regarding your future?
Potentially. But again who knows what's going to happen next Test or the Test after that. As I said, I am controlling what I can, I am trying to be as fit and as strong as I possibly can which is all I can do at the moment when we are not playing. I'll start my actual cricket training in the coming weeks and again I am always looking to improve and become a better cricketer. That might change and as I have said before whilst I am enjoying it, I am trying to do it as long as I possibly can. I have put no end date on it
Thoughts on allrounder Cameron Green
I don't want to put too much pressure on him, but I think all Australian cricket fans can get very excited about the prospect of Cam Green. I've played a few Shield games against him and the first one all the senior guys noticed him bowling first and we thought 'geez he's a bit quicker and a bit better than I thought he'd be' and all the young blokes are saying 'just wait until you see him bat', and we thought 'there's no way he's going to be able to bat like he bowls and then he came out and hit a hundred. He's an exceptional talent. I haven't had conversations with him but certainly playing against him he was really impressive out in the middle, looked like he was in complete control of his game and really knew what he was trying to do, and to see him moving around the crease, there were a couple of little things I noticed when I was keeping against him where I thought 'he's pretty impressive', not only is he talented, but he looks like he really knows what he's doing. It's an exciting thing for an Australian cricket fan to have someone like that on the horizon.
Who do you think has the advantage if the IND-AUS Tests are played in front of empty crowds?
Probably me. I am the only one in the last few years to have played in front of empty houses. I was doing it a lot in club cricket and Shield cricket, two or three years ago. I don't think it will affect anyone. Once you get out there even in front of big crowds, it very quickly narrows down to what's happening on the pitch. Whilst it can be a distraction for the first few balls, I find most players tend to forget the crowd once you are in the heat of the battle. Crowd or no crowd, again it is going to come down to who's performing and executing their skills better. As I said in England, the crowd is irrelevant when its bat v ball in the middle.
As captain of the side, you've done a lot to help restore the reputation of the team and cricket in Australia. How disappointed are you with everything that’s going on in the last two months?
I spoke to my playing group two weeks ago and said actually the opposite. I said I was really proud of the way our playing group in particular handled the last few months. There's been some indiscretions, if you like, from some athletes in other sporting codes and we've spoken a lot about the way we want to behave as an Australian cricket team, and I think our behaviour as a group of contracted cricketers in the last three or four months has been outstanding, and with the negotiation that's going on behind the scene, everything that I've been involved in, in that has been the same. There's been rumours and media talk about arguing and disagreements and fighting as I said before, it's a negotiation. It happens a lot and everyone that I've certainly spoken to who's got the game at the forefront of their thoughts and as I've said before, we want to make sure the game continues long into the future in a really healthy state. And the players, the ACA and Cricket Australia, all three parties are really strong on that.
Were you surprised when you said that at the time, a couple of months back that the game was in a cash crisis as the former CEO said?
Not really. You only have to look around the world at the moment to say that it's happening in most businesses. Most sports teams and associations and boards are trying to safeguard the games of the future. Whether or not it's in trouble or whether we're trying to make sure that it can stay strong, well into the future. I think they are different conversations, but it's important that we do our bit as players and Cricket Australia and ACA we all work together. As I say, keep negotiating and work out the best possible scenario for the game of cricket and that has happened many times before, and this time will be no different.
You mentioned your relationship that you had a good relationship with Kevin Roberts, but there has been this turmoil, the players association said that they didn't have any confidence in CAs financial reporting. Last week, Earl Eddings said he took full responsibility for the actions of what's been going on in the past few months. Do you have full confidence in the Cricket Australia board?
What I understand is that it's a difficult role and sport and business in general at the moment is very difficult when there's these COVID restrictions, there's financial worries, there’s TV rights. There’s so many different things that go into it. I am happy that I'm not in a position where I'm governing any sport at the moment in strife. Certainly, it's a very difficult time to be in those roles, and the disappointing thing at times is that people continually going after these people, these are just people who are trying to do their best. Sometimes we need to remember that things get a bit personal and we like to attack people and go after them. At times we've just got to remember they're just people. They're trying to do their best in a very, very difficult situation. Sometimes you just gotta give them the space to do it.
Do you have full confidence in the board?
At the moment yeah I do have. It's always a negotiation, it's going to go on and the ACA and Cricket Australia will work through it. What I do know is that both parties have got the interests of cricket at heart and they're both doing their best to come together and make somewhere in the middle.
Do you have a view about whether the World Cup should go ahead or the IPL should take its place?
I don't know enough about either, to be honest, as a fan, I'd love to see them both (T20 World Cup and IPL) go ahead. I'd love to see the World Cup in Australia to be a great spectacle. But yet again, that's something for people, that's not my job to decide what's going to go ahead. There's plenty water to go under the bridge for both of those. But for me being an international cricketer, obviously, we'd like to see as much cricket back being played as possible and as soon as possible.
Just looking forward to the India series. Australia will have a vastly improved batting line-up this time around. But should you have to bowl first again on potentially flat pitches at MCG and SCG like they were last time? How will your plans differ to get rid of guys like Pujara?
I was hoping you might be able to help me with that, to be honest. We certainly struggled a little bit last time. But sometimes you gotta give some credit. And they played very well. But I won't go into detail. Well, certainly, I'm sure that we've learned a lot from playing against him last summer. We think we're a better team now than we were then. And again, a lot of the time in that last year, we didn't get enough runs on the board to put them under any pressure. So as good as our attack is, you still need to be scoring enough runs to win Test matches. And we didn't score a lot of runs in that Test series and weren't miles away. So we just feel like we can get some scoreboard pressure on and score the runs that we know we need to score to win Test matches that our bowling attack doesn't let us down.