Almanac Cricket: Painful end for captain who did a lot right




So it looks like it’s all over for Tim Paine, at least in Test cricket.


After taking an ‘indefinite’ mental health break from all cricket, he will definitely miss the Ashes and given his age – almost 37 – it is impossible to see him coming back, and it will be a surprise if he plays again at any serious level.


At the end of one of the longest weeks any Australian sportsman has endured, the denouement – falling on his sword for the second time – is beyond disappointing.


It’s unfair, too. Whatever you think of the behaviour that has led to this sad situation, surely the punishment outweighs the offence by a substantial margin.


He committed no crime, or even breached any codes of conduct, according to the official verdicts.


He was guilty of a not uncommon, but private, form of stupidity, a one-off as far as we know, and with obvious consequences for his personal life when it emerged, which it inevitably did.


It wasn’t a hanging offence by any stretch of the imagination.


That is not to suggest it has all been just a storm in a tea-cup – the captaincy of the Australian Test team does not quite rival the Prime Ministership for importance, as has often been romantically suggested, but it does carry a prestige unequalled in any other sporting – and possibly cultural – field, so it does matter. A lot.


So was Paine right to step away from it?


Yes, in the sense that it was an honourable call, made in what he considered to be the best interests of the game and the team, an attempt to minimise distraction on the eve of a huge summer. He was trying, remorsefully to do the right thing by all concerned, his family no exception.


For that he is to be respected, not vilified.


Of course his indiscretion – like the sandpaper scandal before it, and a few others before that – has damaged the reputation of Australia’s most popular international sport, but the blame isn’t all his.


By covering it up in the certain knowledge that it would get out in the end – as these things nearly always do – the Cricket Australia board at the time ensured that the embarrassment would be ramped up, which it certainly was.


Worse, it has led to some kind of civil war between various administrative elements and perhaps even the playing cohort, all at a time when the game is desperate for public support and engagement and with the most important of all Test series about to begin. It’s been a bit of a shambles, really – and not for the first time.


Paine is the one paying the price but there is – or should be – a limit on how heavy that is.


Surrendering the captaincy – and having the words ‘in disgrace’ attached to it forevermore – is more than enough, especially when it is set beside the emotional trauma he and his family have endured together.


This is not to paint him as a victim – far from it – because of course he is responsible for what he does, and there is another party involved, but she has yet to explain exactly what the circumstances were from her perspective. Maybe she never will, which is entirely her prerogative.


However, over his journey in the spotlight Paine has done much more right than wrong and if the dust had been allowed to settle I reckon most people – not everyone, admittedly – would have not only cut him some slack but wished him well in getting on with his life.


His tenure in charge began in far more challenging, demanding and unusual circumstances than has ever been the case for any new incumbent, and he handled an urgently needed repair job on the dressing room’s culture and image with impressive aplomb.


There were one or two debatable forays into sledging, nothing serious, and if perhaps he wasn’t necessarily the most astute tactician and strategist ever, well, everyone from CA down could live with that against the broader backdrop of his sensitive assignment.


He enjoyed the confidence of his troops and in due course the public who warmed to his ‘everyman’ persona. He never had tickets on himself.


He  also justified his place in the team as the wicketkeeper – the best available, according to most experts — and a lower-order batsman.


On that basis he was entitled to at least start the Ashes campaign, and that shouldn’t have been a difficult call for the selectors, notwithstanding chairman George Bailey’s controversial decision to leave it to Justin Langer and Tony Dodemaide because he considered his friendship with Paine to be a conflict. That was a poor call from Bailey – he was appointed to oversee all decisions, easy and hard, and needs to do that no matter what.


Passing the captaincy baton to the accomplished, popular and highly intelligent Pat Cummins is a no-brainer, and returning the once-disgraced Steve Smith to a leadership role as his deputy also makes sense.


Smith’s captaincy came to grief in a very different way to Paine but the similarity is that he, too, has never been considered as a rotten apple in the bag – just someone who immaturely lost control of a regrettable situation, and who has demonstrated genuine remorse ever since.


Time to forgive and forget – as it should have been for Paine in due course.



We’ll do our best to publish two books in the lead-up to Christmas 2021. The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020  and the 2021 edition to celebrate the Dees’ magnificent premiership season(title is up for discussion at the moment!). These books will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers and Demons season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from these two Covid winters. Enquiries HERE


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  1. Brian The Ruminator says

    Lot of equivocation here, Ron. A case could have been made that Smith didn’t deserve to resign either, but he also made the right choice. Like you point out, we have two exalted offices in public life here. With the complete trashing of the PM’s office in recent years, I reckon most people would be happy that our Test captain has higher standards.

    We now have Cummins as captain and a new wickie. I wish Tim all the best, but for me it’s that upside that will be the lasting legacy of this unfortunate turn of events.

  2. Once he’d made his stupid personal mistake he had to roll the dice. Damned if you do. Damneder if you don’t. Unlucky with injury early in his career. Then prolonged his career when the team needed a steady leader after the shambles of Sandpapergate. Never look a gift horse in the mouth.
    Sport salutes the flag of community leader and ethical standards but like business is essentially amoral. Cricket Australia is more hypocritical than Federal Politics. Enjoy the spectacle but hold your nose on the ethics of the organisation and individuals. Its all show biz.

  3. Daryl Schramm says

    Can’t disagree with any of the piece, or the comments. The whole situation has generated some sadness and anger for me. The pile-on from MSM and social avenues was expected. How the he’ll does Steve Smith get re-elevated to VC? And can someone tell me who the best keeper available is? It was Paine who, as I recall, got the nod over Carey a few years back. Or is it Neville, who should never have been dropped in the first place.

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Well said Ron. Paine made a monumental error but has been absolutely hung out to dry, the lack of support from Cricket Australia is most disappointing but not unexpected. Interesting that Langer backed his captain to keep the role. Tim Paine made a wonderful contribution as captain since 2018 and I hope that does get remembered. There are no winners out of this.

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