Tim Paine’s Australia are cut through with their skipper’s mixture of steel and humility.
Tim Paine’s Australia are cut through with their skipper’s mixture of steel and humility.

The happy accident of Tim Paine’s captaincy

TIM Paine was for all intents and purposes an accidental captain, one of the few still standing when the shooting stopped and smoke cleared, but as parents tell unplanned children, he has proved to be a happy accident.

The circumstances by which he came to the job are as well known as his tenure in it are unknown, but he is most definitely in it for a good time, if not a long one. And that is exactly what his team needs. It is hard to remember a more relaxed figure at the helm of the Australian cricket team.

His first Test in charge was a necessarily casual affair amid the catastrophe.

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He's navigated a similar path since. Suffering stoically through series losses in the UAE against Pakistan and then at home to India. Protected to a degree by a new coach who drew the spotlight. One ill-fated attempt to lead the one-day team on a tour of England was enough to convince him to limit expectations and exposure.

A win against Sri Lanka in the back half of the summer was easier than it should have been and not necessarily a guide to the side's chances in the Ashes.

The two sides vary considerably. Two of the men who made centuries in the last match of that series, Joe Burns and Kurtis Patterson, didn't even make the 17-man squad for this one. Marcus Harris is the only one of the two openers still travelling with the team, but he was not in the XI for Lord's. Marnus Labuschagne is another in the squad and not in the side.

Paine is back where he and Smith's career began in July 2010.

Paine’s off-field duties have multiplied at a time when his focus is more clearly on the pitch.
Paine’s off-field duties have multiplied at a time when his focus is more clearly on the pitch.

"I probably know a few more things now than I did then," he said this week. "I know one thing is that I certainly take it in a lot more now, enjoy what I'm doing. I think back then I didn't really. I put a hell of a lot of pressure on myself to perform. Probably too much.

"We have to perform, that's our job. Back then, even though I was young, I didn't enjoy the cricket as much as I did the off field. Now I tend to enjoy the cricket more than I do the off field. So it's a nice place to be."

There have been two photographs of Paine widely published in the days leading up to the Test. Yesterday he "photobombed" Steve Smith, who was having his portrait shot in front of a painting of Donald Bradman in the Long Room of the Lord's Pavilion.

Australia’s current and former captain have a relationship that works perfectly for both men.
Australia’s current and former captain have a relationship that works perfectly for both men.

The thing to note about that image as you paste it into your scrap books is how casual the pair are in each other's company. It should be awkward. It should be like relations between a current and former husband, but there is no tension between them.

Paine is comfortable enough not to be threatened by the man who had the job before him. Smith is mature enough to respect the man who was handed his role when the first marriage went so horribly wrong.

Having "bombed" the portrait, Paine walked out of shot, but before he left the room he jokingly asked Smith if he wouldn't mind autographing a print of the moment for him. It was a light moment when you could easily imagine it being leaden.

The series is little more than a Test old, but so far it has been all about Smith and his brilliance.

Paine knows his presence has made his job a hell of a lot easier. Having the first husband back isn't so bad, especially when he is handy around the house and not a bad bloke to have a drink with.

The other photograph appeared the day before and was of Paine with his youngest son strapped to a harness on his chest, out strolling beside Steve Waugh.

Paine’s young family joined him in London this week.
Paine’s young family joined him in London this week.

Waugh is the team's mentor. It is his first time back with the Australian Test side and cricket in any extended role at this level since he walked away from the game in 2004 and he appears to be revelling in it; walking with the side in the morning, drinking coffee with those seeking his counsel, always at the nets or by the dressing room.

Paine told The Australian he was intimidated beyond belief the first time he rang the former captain last year.

He'd been given his number and told to call if he needed any instructions on how to handle the role. Waugh was his childhood idol, but a distant, forbidding figure.

At Edgbaston Paine and the Australian coaches plans worked perfectly to strangled England.
At Edgbaston Paine and the Australian coaches plans worked perfectly to strangled England.

Within minutes of introducing himself and asking the first tentative question they had bonded and the relationship has only grown since the start of the Ashes.

If you want to know how to win a series in these parts, Steve Waugh is your man.

It is apparent in Paine's ease in front of the hostile English press pack that he is as comfortable in his job as he is in the company of Waugh and Smith.

They suggest he is under pressure from younger keepers and he suggests they check his age and career circumstances. He turns 35 this December, he is here for a good time not a long time.

Paine debuted for Australia at Lord’s, in 2010, the same match Steve Smith got his Baggy Green.
Paine debuted for Australia at Lord’s, in 2010, the same match Steve Smith got his Baggy Green.

They scoff at his grading of Edgbaston, he smiles and says "sucked you in".

In the last press conference before the Lord's Test he sat down in front of a full house at the ECB offices, rubbed his eyes and announced that he hadn't slept well. The baby had kept him up last night. Any questions? They had nothing.

Australia has prepared rigorously for this series. It is playing a long game, rotating bowlers and sticking to conservative plans of attack that are in stark contrast to Ashes recently passed.

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There's humility to their approach but there is still steel inside. The same could be said of the skipper.

Paine was part and participant of the not-so-old ways of Australian cricket, the hard-arse tradition, but in him the game has found a man for the difficult transition to a new way.

The right man was in the right spot at the right time.

That's a fortuitous hat-trick right there.

News Corp Australia


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