ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - DECEMBER 05: Tim Paine of Australia poses in his Captains Blazer ahead of the Test series between Australia and India at Adelaide Oval on December 05, 2018 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Tim Paine – The Captain Australia Needs, Not the Captain Australia Wants.

Tim Paine is Australian Cricket’s 46th Captain, but is he just a stop gap till we find number 47?

I’m the best player in the world and you’re just a stand in captain.

Virat Kohli (Allegedly) to Tim Paine during the Second Test at Optus Stadium

I know he’s your captain, but you can’t seriously like him as a bloke.

Paine to Murali Vijay, largely in response

They were two great sledges that in many ways defined the second test, the first ever to be held at Perth Stadium, two fantastic sledges that were not rude and were not abusive, but rather had an air of truth to them.

For reasons best known to themselves, the BCCI chose to deny the almighty sledge, on Virat Kohli’s behalf, somehow thinking that sledges were bad, even ones as on point as this one. It’s a bit like how Andrew Symonds recently claimed that Harbhajan Singh did eventually apologise for calling him a monkey, only for Harbhajan Singh to deny it. Both Harbhajan and Virat Kohli seemed to miss the point, that what they were said to have done were actually good things that made them seem like nice people, or at least nicer than their reputation is generally.

The reason that Kohli’s alleged sledge was so good was because it had an air of truth to it (as did Paine’s), in that many people believe that Tim Paine is a stop-gap captain, that he is only there until a decent one can be named.

When Tim Paine was named as Australia’s 46th test captain, it came in the most difficult of circumstances. The prior captain, and Australia’s best player, Steve Smith, had just been banned for bringing the game into disrepute, and with him went the vice captain and second best batsman, David Warner, as well as the other opener, the fringe player Cameron Bancroft. Not only that but the whole leadership group were implicated, which meant that Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Nathan Lyon could potentially have been involved, and even Pat Cummins had been shown in the South African media to have put his foot on top of the ball, which South African media suggested was ball tampering.

It wasn’t a matter of Tim Paine being the best candidate so much as there wasn’t anyone else who could be chosen. The only other potential choices were the out of form Shaun Marsh, the out of form Mitchell Marsh and a player who had shown himself unable to handle the pressure of stressful situations in Usman Khawaja. Not only were both Marsh brothers out of form, but both had had major leadership issues, when they went out drinking during a Champion’s Trophy tournament. 

Paine’s captaincy came in the worst of circumstances, not only because of the three players who were banned, but also the way the team was regarded, especially in Australia. Then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull came out to say that he demanded action, and in response, three players were not only banned for nine months, one year and one year apiece, but they were also banned from playing domestic cricket, at least in Australia.

No player in history had ever been banned for knowing about ball tampering or for organising ball tampering, yet Smith and Warner had just that happen to them. Not only that, but most Australians regarded the ball tampering bans to be too lenient, as they were convinced that much more than those three players were involved. After all, as one reporter put it, the idea that two batsmen told the third batsman to do something that would help the bowlers and the bowlers didn’t know about it is beyond ridiculous.

Not only that, but the idea that Warner, who had never tampered with the ball, would tell Bancroft to use sandpaper, is beyond ridiculous. Even the worst critics of Warner suggested he had faked an injury to tamper with the ball, but he had certainly never used sandpaper. Something didn’t add up.

All of this came during a massive cash grab in Australian cricket that saw Australia’s players, especially the women’s players, take massive pay rises, leading to the televised matches being given to a mixture of Fox Sports and Channel Seven. The entire home South African ODI series was not seen by most Australians, and many thought that the home Test Series wasn’t going to be shown either.

Most Australians either thought that Smith and Warner shouldn’t have been banned – or at least not for as long – or they thought that more should have gone with them. The view of Australian cricket was at an all-time low.

Few in Australia noticed that Tim Paine led Australia to a surprising draw in UAE against Pakistan, a game that Australia were losing badly, as they batted for the best part of two days to see off the draw. Few noticed that Australia, albeit under Aaron Finch, won a T20 international against India, and drew the series.

And few noticed that the Adelaide Oval, the host of the first test, was actually manipulated to be more helpful to the tourists than it should have been, most notably by not being played at night. Had it been played at night, which Australia was used to, Australia undoubtedly would have won. For it to go down to just 31 runs was a great thing for Australia.

The Adelaide Test Match was actually a lot closer than the 31 run margin suggests. Had Australia reviewed that caught behind decision of Cheteshwar Pujara for 89 on the first day, off a ball bowled by Josh Hazlewood, then Australia would have won.

Had Aaron Finch reviewed when he was out, Australia would have won.

Had Josh Hazlewood reviewed the final ball, which replays showed bounced before being caught, Australia probably would have won.

With everything against Australia, they still would probably have won if not for a bit of bad luck.

Tim Paine is not the best captain Australia has ever had. That title goes to Allan Border, the man who took Australia from their lowest ever period to their greatest ever period, but Paine at least is a nett good. He has taken Australia from their greatest low since the dark old days of the mid-1980s, and taken them to that little bit more, at least giving them a chance of winning the series, or at least drawing it.

As we head into Melbourne, we have a series there to be won or lost. Rain is expected to ruin the MCG test, and we are likely to go to Sydney 1-1, on a ground where winning the toss tends to win the match. If India win, we fought hard, taking it to the final match, and if Australia win then Paine will be said to be a good captain. It may all depend on where that coin lands and who ends up winning the toss.

Tim Paine was plucked from absolute obscurity last year, when he wasn’t even playing for his state, and certainly wasn’t keeping. He played one Sheffield Shield match as a batsman. He had no captaincy experience and precious little recent wicket keeping experience. And yet he was picked in what was meant to be a three-way tussle between the incumbent Matthew Wade, his predecessor Peter Nevill and newcomer Alex Carey, but instead they picked a discarded wicketkeeper who was nowhere near serious test consideration, and yet it worked.

The hunch to beat all hunches, the biggest hunch since Peter Taylor was picked because they thought he was the opening batsman Mark Taylor, someone picked from grade cricket, someone who had given up any chance of playing for his state as a wicket keeper let alone for his country, was picked, did well, and then was suddenly captain, and he even did well there.

There can be little doubt that it is only a matter of time before Paine is dumped. Alex Carey has already replaced him in the ODI and T20I teams and Paine is really only keeping his spot because there is no alternative, but with first class captain Travis Head in the test side, along with Australian ODI and T20I captain Aaron Finch, we just need to wait for them to do well enough in the test team and Paine will surely be replaced as captain. 

But until then, this stop gap captain is doing his job, in doing precisely what he is meant to do, to stop the gap, to stop the pain, and to minimise the losses.

How long he has to be captain remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: he is doing his job, not as the captain we want, but as the captain we need.

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