Tim Paine: The Poisoned Chalice Of Dreams

Australia look stunned. That’s the only way to describe the vacant husks that have replaced the real Australian side. Over five days at The Wanderers, they look like eleven men whose minds are so far from their task that they may as well be on Mars.

Tim Paine has barely been back in the side a few months, and now the captaincy has been thrust upon him in his 13th test match. How long he’ll hold on to the role, nobody knows, but he’s the only man trusted to lead in the wake of one of the biggest scandals to hit Australian cricket; the only one management are sure wasn’t involved.

He seems an odd choice: where Smith was loud and aggressive, Paine is considered; where Smith, faced with accusations of cheating, was glib and entitled, Paine is contrite. As the world realises just how far Australia have descended into the depths of vitriol and anger – led there by Darren Lehmann, Smith, and Warner – it turns out Paine is actually the perfect choice to take them forward.

They lose the game – and hard. Faf du Plessis grinds them into the Johannesburg earth and kicks them while they’re down. But can we blame Australia? They’re in mourning – they just saw Australian cricket, as they know it, die.


In Designated Survivor: 60 Days, Park Mu-jin, Minister for Environment, is elevated to the presidency after a disaster at the Korean National Assembly kills everyone ahead of him in the line of presidential succession. He has sixty days to stabilise the country as caretaker until a new assembly is formed. As the timer runs down, he must quickly come to grips with the moralistic demands of the job – despite the doubt of those around him – and discover the whole truth of the attack that killed so many members of the cabinet.

There are similarities between the stories of Park Mu-jin and Tim Paine. Even as the Australian public turned their backs on Smith and Warner, as the Prime Minister called for dignity and respectability to be restored to Australian cricket, there was a sense that Paine wasn’t the best man for the job, that, as the furore over ball tampering dies down, Australia are on the lookout for his replacement. So too has the whole truth about Newlands not come to light, held behind legal barricades, and when the story does break one imagines that Paine will be the one to front up to it. But in the sixteen months that he has been captain, Paine has weathered the storm to emerge as more than just a caretaker.

It hasn’t been easy. He was stripped of the ODI captaincy following a 5-0 loss to England, without a hint of gratitude for taking it on. He’s had to field constant questions over his suitability as captain in the wake of losses to Pakistan and India, whether Australia are still good enough, whether they’ve lost their bite – all with the insinuation that, if they’re not and they have, it would be his fault. To a media who so frequently want it both ways – for Australia to be respectable but still hyper-aggressive – Paine is a scapegoat-in-waiting.

In the Ashes, he’ll have to contend with an old leadership group reintegrating with his current regime. And in changing the vice-captaincy like they’re changing shirts and in insisting on giving him more than one deputy, the management hasn’t helped. But in spite of the difficulty, Paine has proven a solid and dependable leader – something that Australia arguably hasn’t had since Steve Waugh. He has shown that hard, competitive cricket isn’t about abusing the opponent; that it can be played with respect. He’s shown that cricket, for all its drama, is just a game.

Tim Paine comes across as a reserved, somewhat stoic man. Histrionics don’t come naturally to him. Off the field, he is quiet, staid, with a hint of Australian mischief. On the field he is a model professional. Yet, that belies an inner fight. He wants this – that much is clear. He may be viewed as a caretaker, someone to mind the transition, but this isn’t a transient period in his life; this is it. He may want Australia to play with dignity and respect, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t prepared to fight. Against the King of Conflict, Kohli, he came out on top – at least in the verbal jousting – and while his sledges may come across less as aggressive indictment and more polite enquiry, it’s clear that behind that calm demeanour is familiar Australian fire. Unlike some of his predecessors, he just knows when and how to use it.

As professional cricketers become more unruly both on and off the field, Tim Paine comes across as above it all. He was touted as a potential captain as early as 2010. And years in the wilderness, battling recurring injury, have not dulled the qualities that had him earmarked for leadership almost a decade ago.

And while he inherited a team in turmoil and that turmoil hasn’t abated, there are signs that, under Paine’s steady leadership, Australia are starting to surface from the instability of the past sixteen months. The Ashes, then, will be instructive. After finally securing their first test win since Newlands, against Sri Lanka, this will be their first major challenge. There’s no doubt that Newlands will be front-and-centre in the media and the fans; there’ll be sandpaper on hats and beer-fuelled sledges hurled from across the boundary, but such is the Ashes – and Paine looks ready for it.

Tim Paine’s captaincy doesn’t dazzle – there’s no tactical tenacity; no “funky” fields. Rather, he’s an admirably jobbing cricketer. He just gets the job done. We are often remembered for our faults: Smith may have won everything and scored all the runs in the world, but Newlands will remain his cricketing epitaph; while Ponting is best known for his poor captaincy rather than his World Cup triumphs; similarly, Ben Stokes might have won England a World Cup final, but Bristol will always hang over his name. Paine, tragically, likely won’t be remembered as either good or bad. Rather, as Australia try and wipe the stain of Newlands away, so too might he be discarded as little more than a warden.

He won’t be thanked for his stewardship of Australia, nor expounded next to the greats, but that doesn’t make his contribution to Australian cricket any the less. He has been through years of struggle and adversity, which prepared him to lead Australia through the same. In a period where Australia might easily have spiralled, he kept them level. And now he’s here, on the cusp of Ashes captaincy, and he has proven he was, and is, the best man for the job.

Geoffrey Bunting


  • Sorry Geoffery, but that was mostly nonsense, at least 80% of it and that’s being reasonable.

    Basically your saying Tim Paine’s a good bloke and nothing else – seriously? He was THE only choice as captain in SA, not the one sitting closest to the door. He is a good leader, not the best keeper in the country, and he’ll tell you that, but he is the right man to get Australia through the shite in SA and into this series. I suspect he will retire after the Ashes and probably Travis Head will get the job, but don’t rule out Smith, he is still highly regarded at CA.

    Speaking of captains, Ricky Ponting a poor captain? Man, pass that around, your stuff is goooood……. Ponting was a great leader, digging out big runs when a captain needed to step up, managing Warnie, reading of the game and probably up there as one of the best in modern cricket in bowling changes, fantastic captain. Just because Warnie didn’t like him, doesn’t make him a bad captain. Warnie didn’t like Steve Waugh either. That era didn’t work out too bad did it.

    We are much better at our Vice Captains than England, we have had three since Warner was banned – Mitch Marsh dropped because of poor form, Hazelwood (out injured) and our current, Travis Head. England had Ben Stokes but being a dickhead and a VC for your adopted country doesn’t work, Jos Buttler but he was dumped as VC this week so the “reformed” dickhead was given the job again. If I was Jos I’d be pretty pissed off, unless he asked to be stood down, but who asks that???

    Anyway, I need to lie down, your stuff is too strong man.

    • I couldn’t really get on with the article either and didn’t manage to finish it. I thought Ponting was a decent captain, but not as good as Waugh, Taylor or Border. One thing that was particularly impressive was how his batting form never dipped, as is the case with many captains, particularly England’s. He also improved in the job, unlike Alastair Cook who was the same block of wood throughout.

    • I thought it was generally accepted that Ponting was a very average captain at best. In fact, he was the first Aussie captain in over a century to lose the Ashes 3 times. His captaincy was quite robotic and his on-field demeanour was often petulant and gave the opposition a lift. Yes he won a lot of games, but throwing the ball to McGrath or Warne doesn’t exactly require a huge cricketing IQ.

      I think Paine has done a good job. I also happen to think he’s a good player and would’ve played for Australia more if he hadn’t got injured so much. He’s exactly what the Aussies needed at the time, although it now seems a bit weird that he’s still in charge when Smith has returned. For what it’s worth, I think Paine might have been considered as Aussie captain regardless of his squeaky clean image. He’s always been highly regarded.

    • The prime reason Stokes was reappointed vice captain was that Root wanted him, the two being very different characters but with a clear mutual respect for each other as cricketers. With Stokes around a game never drifts and he always seems to want to be involved in it. I’m not sure what sort of captain he’d make, possibly something of a Botham, but he clearly cares passionately about performance. I don’t feel that strength of character on the field with Butler as vice captain. For me he’s something of a champagne cricketer at test level and not leadership material.

  • After what had preceded his appointment I believe the Australian authorities had to choose as near as an unimpeachable character as they could to succeed as captain. I feel this was of more immediate importance to them than his ability on the field. Under him there has not been a whiff of controversy. Whether this makes him the best man for the job is another matter. However I never really rated Ponting as a captain, Some of his tactical decisions in key Ashes moments were at best questionable. We won in 2005 and 2009, not because we had the better team, but because we played the key moments better and part of the responsibility for that must rest on the captains shoulders in recognising these moments and motivating the players to raise their game at the right time. The way his team publicly celebrated the draw at Old Trafford clearly motivated the England team for the rest of that series.
    I still feel Australia have the edge with their top order experience, and Paine has this to call on in the field as well, so I expect him to make a decent show against a still pretty inexperienced Root.

    • The problem with having Stokes as vice captain is that I doubt the ECB will ever want him to lead the side full time. Consequently, if Root gets injured (or sacked) the board would have to promote Buttler above Stokes. This would create quite an uncomfortable and strange dynamic.

  • Ponting has stats to say he is the greatest ever Aus captain I think both in number of wins and win% despite his poor ashes record. I think the team has more to do with it. I believe he improved considerably but was generally pretty poor early on and looked lost in 05 when he was without the ability to just bring on McGrath to tighten the screws

  • I thought that this was a pretty good article and I see nothing wrong with say that Ponting was a poor captain. Sure he inspired with his batting but tactically, that’s another matter. I was there at Edgbaston when it was announced that McGrath has stepped on a ball before the game and then, at the toss, Ricky saying “we’ll have a bowl”. Quite a lot of us were incredulous.
    Actually this was a very good article.


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