It is a story of what-if.
What if Tim Paine was never picked in the Australian side for the Ashes 2017?
What if the ball-tampering scandal never broke out in public?
But more importantly, what if Paine never played that unimportant All-Stars T20 match in 2010 when a rising Nannes delivery broke his right index finger?
It is a story worth spending your brain juice over, for the injury had such a toll on him that in 2010 that the cricketer who was labeled as the “future long-term captain” was obscured to mediocrity, and his return to the Test side in 2017 was grasped with sheer mockery of the Australian feeder system.
When a cricketer retires, there is a growing tendency among cricket writers to use hindsight bias to put the career into perspective. The idea is worthless and sometimes, insignificant. But the story of Paine’s injury almost a decade and a half ago defined the interlude in Australian cricket in such a way they scarcely imagined it to be, which became a story in itself.
It is important to remember those details because while trying to figure out the personality cult of Paine in the period between him taking over the Australian captaincy responsibilities after the Sandpapergate scandal, holding onto it like a true statesman, and then bowing out with another scandal to his name, we sometimes forget the kind of batter he was - stoic at a time of the collapse, and putting up a brave front even when things were crashing around him. The lack of runs never came on his way of stubbornness to bring the best he could - a defining feature of his captaincy tenure that was embellished with fair bits of crests and troughs.
"Considering his age the level of the standard of keeping and he's still been able to generate has been really incredible," Tasmania skipper Jordan Silk said of Paine. "He's always someone that you know is doing the work behind the scenes. I think he sets a great example for work ethic and all that sort of stuff for all of our guys."
Paine could never endear himself to Indian cricket fans. He was the typical Aussie head, who could go to any length to rattle you. From sledging Rishabh Pant left, right, and center in the 2018-19 Border-Gavaskar Trophy to the argy-bargy with Ravichandran Ashwin in the 2020-21 series, Paine was always around to do something that would seem out of place. But that was perhaps an extension of his intrinsic personality, which was never affected by the hope of an IPL contract.
Think all of it and then imagine the contrast of Paine’s departure from cricket altogether. For a player, who put out a memoir within a year of his last Test, bashing Cricket Australia for hanging him to dry in the Cricket Tasmania sexting scandal, was surprisingly silent in his retirement and didn’t even appear in the post-match press conference. There is perhaps not a lot to read here but the way things have shaped in the last few months, it was hard to keep an eye off it.
When Paine departed from international cricket, it never seemed extraordinary. His successor Pat Cummins has ensured that Australia played tough cricket all this while and made their way to the World Test Championship Final in June. They drew in Sri Lanka, won in Pakistan, and rattled the Windies and South Africa at home, and put on a show in India, almost threatening the home team’s proud dominance in these conditions.
All these have ensured Paine has slowly been relegated to the dormant stage he was in before 2017, holding onto a hope that seemed farther than ever before. He then bid his time, led a culture overhaul, and walked back as swiftly as he could. It had an interlude, not everything was fun but figuratively, had a massive impact on Australian cricket. That legacy will not be forgotten.
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