Tim Paine raises his bat for a half-century (photo: @icc twitter)

Tim Paine should bat at number three for Australia in the Sydney Test match as a favourable result a critical step towards recovery. The time for an exceptional and extraordinary form of leadership to begin calming the chaos has arrived. A bold statement, an unexpected tactic, a plan with a root in history between the leaders would throw an energy into the contest from action and intent. Elite honesty is already so 2018.

As our captain, who has just presided over another defeat with a team that delivered more frustrations than hope, a methodical dismantling by India has ruthlessly exposed deeper issues amongst the mindset.

An opportunity has arrived to allow a remarkable stand of defiant determination. An opportunity to demonstrate hope and inspiration, to bring along a team, the fans, unify the community and repair the damage done to the role of being captain of the Australian Test Cricket team.

The Boxing Day Test always draws an avalanche of media attention. This weight has become even heavier as “exclusive interviews” from the suspended players have been scrutinised, adding further layers of content to the multiple layers of networks across all mediums.

Combine this with the underwhelming performance of a batting top order that are still to establish enough of a platform to deliver an innings of true substance, yet alone a century, giving us 6-102 in 43 overs and then 6-157 in 50 overs at the MCG (more club cricket like than elite), the murky darkness thickens.

“If you’ve got world-class players that aren’t in your team, are they going to add to our team? I think they will. So while at the moment it’s challenging and everyone’s frustrated, it is what it is.

Everyone is working as hard as they possibly can and we’re getting guys who are getting experience of high-pressure situations in Test cricket and learning on the job. At times you’re going to get inconsistency from guys that are in that situation. The silver lining is that we have got world-class players that are available soon to come back into this side and clearly when they do it will make a huge difference,” said Paine in Melbourne at the conclusion of the Third Test with the series tilted at 2-1 in the favour of India.

To pick up on the missing players element, how about if they were suffering injury or some other mishap and be unavailable. Let us rest the blame upon the circumstance and look for a solution. Paine has the ability to properly take control in the remaining match in Sydney and build hope.

Before departing for Sydney, Justin Langer feels like the “director of a soap opera”.

The national coach has previously referred to Australian cricket as a dysfunctional family and the past week, in which Cameron Bancroft and Steve Smith’s interviews prompted debate, has done little to improve that environment.

“It’s all just part of the soap opera we’re in every day,” Langer told reporters.

“I feel like a director of a soap opera at the moment, I honestly do.”

The regular open display of internal emotions by Langer is to be applauded, yet could be viewed as an exposure that is profoundly draining upon himself and those he is required to lead, guide, nurture and develop in an environment where “everyone is working hard.”

The “predictable dilemmas” and failings being brutally scrutinised a voracious news cycle fuelled by the considerable media (professional and social) are at a high watermark in a singular direction. There are many larger issues to be sorted in the game ahead. The retirement and removal of management has been substantial, time will be required to put in place the strategies around an improved future balance from where the expected quality of players and performances are duly bestowed.

Keeping the same line-up of batsmen for the Sydney Test would be the ‘definition of madness’ certainly has merit and the reasoning is compelling, although a way forward, to properly let the incumbent players prove to themselves, each other as a team, to the public and to their masters is within grasp.

Tim Paine has had an interrupted career since his first-class debut in 2005 for Tasmania as an opening batsman against South Australia. The next season, still opening the batting, was when against a Langer led Western Australia, Paine scored his maiden first-class hundred. A massive score of 215 in an incredible match that Tasmania won by 6 runs after setting a chase of 400.

The quality of the match, underpinned by the players involved that would make a handy Test group today that apart from Paine included for Tasmania – Di Venuto, Bevan, Bailey, Hilfenhaus and for Western Australia – Langer, North, Voges, Rogers, and S Marsh.

A perplexing aspect is that this score of 215 remains the only score by Paine of this magnitude to the current date as we conclude 2018. However, in 2010 during the tour of India, a 92 in a Mohali classic and 59 in Bengaluru suggested that something was building. A  base of evidence was starting to sprout promisingly.

The shifting state of order that our team has become trapped within, unassisted by a schedule in urgent need of review to achieve a sustainable flow, needs a foundation to build some hope around. There is still time remaining this summer for reparation to occur without wholesale and disruptive change.

Of all the batsmen awarded the responsibility this home summer, the despair at the mode of dismissals has been overwhelming with most of the reasoning centred around flaws in decision making and technique.

Andrew Walton in a selection meeting with assistant coaches during a Victoria blind cricket match

In favour of Paine is that his batting fundamentals are at a high level and standard. This is comparable to those with the sorts of records and performances that have succeeded in the Test arena who we would have learnt from in his formative years.

Balance and back lift are well-weighted. The bat swing is straight, good rhythm and solid in defence. A willingness to leave the ball that is tempting to the outside edge. An adherence early to being straight “in the V” allowing movement to capture the inside edge and deflect into the leg side for singles. A natural instinct to attack the short ball with care and caution, a focus on placement rather that brute power. A solid shape after contact, devoid of the extravagant flourish or “whip” to leg that invites error. Paine watches the ball with intent, placing it into spaces of safety or scoring possibilities.

Qualities that are not far removed from a previous number three bat for Australia (who also came from Tasmania) becoming the bedrock and a cult hero for our team when success was more regular and expected after he plied his trademark determination and grit.

The raw numbers and method suggest that Paine is indeed capable of setting an example of true and unique leadership for the remainder of the summer while all else can unfold.

Since returning to the baggy green against England in Brisbane 2017, a summary of batting performances as follows with the runs, balls and minutes by innings in the match and any significant partnership or more than 50 noted:

Opponent Venue Runs Balls Minutes P/ship ~50+
England Brisbane 13 42 63 N/A
England Adelaide 57 / 11 102 / 27 110 / 42 85
England Perth 49* 85 133 93
England Melbourne 24 36 55 N/A
England Sydney 38* 52 105 N/A
South Africa Durban 25 / 14 72 / 29 103 / 37 60
South Africa Port Elizabeth 36 / 28* 68 / 50 99 / 92 N/A
South Africa Cape Town 34* / 9* 84 / 27 148 / 58 66
South Africa Johannesburg 62 / 7 96 / 28 161 / 40 99
Pakistan Dubai 7 / 61* 27 / 194 35 / 220 79
Pakistan Abu Dhabi 3 / 0 11 / 3 N/A N/A
India Adelaide 5 / 41 20 / 73 26 / 124 N/A
India Perth 38 / 37 89 / 116 135 / 156 59 / 72
India Melbourne 22 / 26 85 / 67 115 / 85 N/A
Total   647 @ 35.9 1483 @ 62 2142 @ 97  

The overall Test average of 35 during this period, as good as any of the others ahead of him in the order now, with an innings average composition of 62 balls and 97 minutes.

If we use the benchmark that batting for an hour is regarded as “being in” then Paine has achieved this in 15 innings, or 62% of those involved, not including others against England and South Africa that loomed into this zone.

There is a glimmer of consistency in what is regarded as essential for a number three.

An ability to get in, absorb balls, bat for time, to build a partnership and to bring calmness to the establishment of the innings.

Paine has proven he has the temperament of a player who values his wicket highly. Evidence established in Dubai from a classic “backs against the wall” resistance partnering Usman Khawaja that consumed 36 overs and then another 14 overs with the tail to the safety of a highly respected draw.

Is it not fair for the question to be asked that if these traits are apparent, that they are put to use at the top of the order, where his career started, to let it be released and provide a source of inspiration from actions?

How does this impact the rest of the team?

It provides a settling effect of faith in having a chance to sort things out. Bringing in another player that is apparently capable of doing a bit of everything, stretches belief a little too far.

It would allow a rightful order of sorts to be established with Khawaja starting off with Harris.

Shaun Marsh remains at number four. Finch to be positioned at number five, where he was originally selected for the Pakistan tour before Renshaw fell ill, creating fairness with role and responsibility. Head resumes at number six where he has looked in good order for the conditions here. Mitchell Marsh follows at number seven with a more balanced responsibility as an all-rounder to permit his natural ability to flow.

The batting order structure with regards to right and left hand has a separation in place, giving cause to the opposition in altering their line should the wickets fall in that order.

All well organised teams, whether it be sport or industry, allow themselves time to have planning sessions that revolve around “dark space” issues. Dark spaces can be considered as the unforeseen, the accidental, the tragic and the highly unexpected. A planning session where the mind and voices are encouraged to roam with freedom, without inhibition or snap judgement, as it may occur that action is urgently needed to establish a position of control to build upon.

Since the incident in Cape Town, the subsequent actions, reviews and departures, the haemorrhaging has been seemingly constant without respite. Apparent is that either little thought had gone into “dark space” or resources required to handle.

Yet we have newly appointed leaders in Paine and Langer, the “magic potion” may lie within reflection of a Shield match from October 2006, where both men can draw upon extensive involvement. Elite honesty should not be remiss of elite reflection, particularly when the bond between those responsible is based on true experience.

Paine has deservedly earned admiration for his leadership style and good-natured character that has been brought to the fore with a willingness to be examined. Around him there is a sense of fairness afforded to a promising career, cruelly cut short by accidental injury, with a window fast closing that has enough space for him to impact profoundly. Leaving an imprint of how Australia can rebound with a substance built upon traditional skills and new age values.

As 2019 has dawned, a fresh start in Sydney is possible without dramatic over reach. Having Tim Paine, our Australian captain, throw down the gauntlet to Virat Kohli and India with the chance to still draw the series possible, boldly stepping onto the SCG batting at number three sends a brave signal of courage, defiance and strength in leadership that would resonate across the country.

Some of the most uplifting moments in sport are where the whole is unified behind the actions of one. Here we have arrived for our leader, Timothy David Paine, who has the ultimate responsibility in the middle under the baggy green, to begin calming the chaos.

Andrew Walton Cricket Mentoring

About the writer: Andrew Walton has a unique depth of experience from a coaching career that has involvements across the spectrum of cricket in Australia, India and England.

Currently in the Cricket Australia Level 3 HP Program, Andrew has been the Head Coach in Premier Cricket Men’s clubs Melbourne (3), Prahran (4), Fitzroy Doncaster (2) and Hawthorn Monash University (2), and a season of Premier Cricket Women’s with Plenty Valley.

International experience has been gained from regular visits (6) to the Karnataka Institute of Cricket (KIOC) in Bangalore and involvement at Middlesex County Cricket Club as a guest coach in 2014. In 2018, Andrew was appointed by Cricket Victoria as Head Coach of the Blind Cricket team for the NCIC and has since been appointed by Cricket Australia as the Assistant Coach of the National Blind Cricket team.




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