Nine months after he took over the Australia captaincy, Tim Paine finally shows us the aggressive, but not abusive team he wants to lead, writes Yas Rana.
As captain of the Australian Test team, Tim Paine been given a most unenviable job. Tasked on the field with leading a national team without its two best batsmen, Steve Smith and David Warner, and off it with repairing the reputation of the Australian team in the eyes of its fans following the scandal which led to their bans, he’s been left with little chance to stamp his mark on his side.
A lengthy break from Test cricket after the South Africa tour meant more time spent unable to change perceptions of him as an inoffensive choice to lead a no-longer offensive team. In some ways, Paine didn’t help himself. His insistence on both teams partaking in pre-match handshakes when Australia travelled to England for an ODI series made pundits and ex-players drawing the link between that pleasantry and a 5-0 whitewash inevitable, even if the connection was unfair.
“I know he’s your captain but you can’t seriously like him as a bloke.”
Some ‘Elite Honesty’ from Tim Paine.
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) December 17, 2018
Before he’d even captained a game on home soil, Michael Clarke publicly said that Paine’s team “wouldn’t win sh*t” by “worrying about being liked.”
It didn’t matter that Paine had never said he wanted other teams to like his, and never suggested Australia would move away from vocal tactics.
“Banter is part of the game but abuse isn’t,” he told Adam Collins in Wisden Cricket Monthly. “We want to be known as a competitive and hard team but we want to do it in a way that our fans and our public like.”
Paine was finding out that reputations are easily won and hard to lose. Perhaps ironically in a country so in favour of mental disintegration, in Australia particular perceptions can only be changed by deeds, rather than words.
It so very nearly got physical between Virat Kohli and Tim Paine…
"Great theatre!" pic.twitter.com/PS1vekBQIh
— Cricket on BT Sport (@btsportcricket) December 17, 2018
India’s visit felt crucial. Australia have never lost a home Test series to an Asian team and against an Indian side led by Virat Kohli, a man on a mission to conquer the world all by himself, it was clear to all that that record was under threat. It’s not too extreme to suggest a series defeat could still end Paine’s Test captaincy career.
If it does however, it would be a shame, since in front of baying home crowds, Australia’s Test captain has finally been able to show the world the intense, aggressive but not abusive cricket his team will strive to play.
The second Test in Perth has shown the kind of approach we should expect from Paine’s Australia. His bowlers have been relentlessly consistent with the ball, bowling good lines and lengths at great speeds, sticking at it even as Virat Kohli made another imperious hundred, limiting the run rate all the while, and striking when the opportunity arose.
"Keep your cool, Virat!" 😏
Tensions continue to rise between the Skippers with the umpire stepping in-between Tim Paine and Virat Kohli 👀 pic.twitter.com/NKQA5LNsZo
— Cricket on BT Sport (@btsportcricket) December 17, 2018
With the bat, Australia have been limited but resolute. Usman Khawaja has summed them up. In Paine’s first Test as captain, his monumental 141 secured a draw against Pakistan in the UAE. Here he was just as defiant, compiling 72 across 213 against arguably India’s best-ever fast bowling unit on a capricious pitch. His powers of concentration demonstrate an admirable mental strength. This Australia team is still as tough a team you’ll come across.
In a way, it’s Paine’s opposite number Virat Kohli who’s summed it up best. “Aggression can also mean how much effort you are putting in for each wicket as a team,” he said before the series. “Aggression is shown through your body language on the field or for bowlers how long they can keep bowling in the same area.”
Virat Kohli: "If you mess up, it's 2-0 here."
Time Paine: "You gotta bat first big head."
The Skippers have an exchange at the end of day three 👀 pic.twitter.com/UGewRFi5dn
— Cricket on BT Sport (@btsportcricket) December 16, 2018
That Kohli allegedly called Paine Australia’s “stand-in” captain in the field shows how easy it is to say one thing and do another. Paine could have, as most would have presumed he would, not responded and said that his team wouldn’t engage with such on-field chat.
To the delight of the Australian public, he bit back, and Paine and Kohli posturing chest-to-chest might yet be the defining image of this Test. It certainly showed a captain unwilling to defer to his opposite number.
In the field, with Kohli dismissed, and Australia, perhaps for the first time in the series, truly on top, Paine rubbed the salt in. “I know he’s your captain,” he prodded Murali Viajy. “But you can’t seriously like him as a bloke.” Four balls later the opener was out, loosely driving and bowled off the inside-edge.
It’s impossible to say whether one influenced the other, but the symbolism was undeniable. Tim Paine and Australia aren’t going to go down quietly. The resulting battles, bat and ball and otherwise, will be riveting to watch.
Paine showed that for all the platitudes of the last nine months, there has been no drastic re-writing of the DNA of Australian cricket. Should Australia secure their first Test win under Paine’s captaincy tomorrow, a line in the sand would have been emphatically drawn for Australia. From now on, we shouldn’t expect anything less than fiercely competitive, aggressive but not abusive, cricket under Paine.
“We want to be known as a competitive and hard team but we want to do it in a way that our fans and our public like.” Well, that’s exactly what Paine did today.