Qantas Tour of South Africa
Silver lining from a long week of Paine
Not lost in the wake of the ball-tampering saga is the resurgence of Tim Paine, Australia's 46th Test captain
Louis Cameron is a Melbourne-based journalist. A former Victorian Bushrangers fast bowler, Louis joined the cricket.com.au team with assistance from the Australian Cricketers' Association's Internship Program in 2016.
Pride has not been a word remotely associated with Australian cricket this week, but Tim Paine's remarkable elevation to the Test captaincy has drawn a quiet sense of fulfillment for many in Tasmanian cricket.
While none hoped for or foresaw the set of circumstances that saw Paine lead a shell-shocked team on the final day at Newlands last Sunday, the fact he was doing it at all is an acknowledgment of his understated role since his sensational recall last November.
Paine will officially become Australia's 46th Test captain when he walks onto The Wanderers turf on Friday for the toss in the fourth and final Test against South Africa.
He is Tasmania's second Test captain after Ricky Ponting, the first from Hobart, and the first wicketkeeper to take on the role since Adam Gilchrist filled in for Steve Waugh and Ponting on six occasions between 2000 and 2004.
Overall, he's just the fourth Australian gloveman to take on the captaincy behind Gilchrist, Barry Jarman (one Test in 1968) and Jack Blackham (eight Tests in 1894-95).
At the start of the 2017-18 season, Tasmania coach Adam Griffith remarkably had to convince Paine - who had all but conceded his first-class career was over - to remain with the Tigers rather than taking up a job offer in Melbourne.
This week, mere months later, Griffith was endorsing his player as a worthy Test skipper.
"He's very forthright, he's very good tactically, which for me is one of the most important things to win games of cricket," Griffith, who oversaw a dramatic turnaround for Tasmania in this year's JLT Sheffield Shield, said earlier this week before Paine had been confirmed as captain for the Johannesburg Test.
"He's also a really good communicator. If he was to get the job he'd do a fantastic job."
Griffith also touched on the litany of finger injuries Paine suffered before embedding himself as Australia's wicketkeeper in all three formats of the game this summer.
The gloveman first damaged his right index finger during an exhibition game in 2010 at the age of 25, having made his Test debut only months earlier – ironically alongside Steve Smith, the man who he has replaced as Test skipper – and suffered a series of setbacks in the ensuing years that put him on the brink of retirement.
"At the start of the season he was thinking about giving it away," Griffith added. "That's been an unbelievable move (to stay) for him. He's now playing all three formats at international level.
"I'm really pleased for him because he's done a lot of hard work to get there. The history has been well documented with his fingers – he was on the verge of perhaps being that (Australia) 'keeper for 10 years anyway.
"I'm just really proud of him and the work he's done and that he's back into that team and doing really well.
"He's not just in that team, he's performing really, really well."
Paine's ascendancy to the captaincy completes a remarkable tale; his recall for the first Test of the summer's Ashes series was considered one of the more astonishing selections in recent Australian cricket history, given his lack of form at first-class level and the fact that he was not even considered first-choice wicketkeeper in the Tigers' Shield squad.
"I couldn't get a run," Paine reflected earlier this month. "I think I just had some mental demons, really. I came back from a finger injury probably thinking that it was going to be a bit easier than it was.
"And then when it didn't happen I probably started to panic a little bit, to be honest. Cricket is a massive confidence game and I just completely lost my confidence.
"I couldn't score a run in club cricket three years ago."
As he has consistently done since his recall to the Test XI, Paine stood tall at Newlands with the bat while the team collapsed around him on and off the field, finishing unbeaten in both innings (making 34no and 9no) and enhancing his leadership credentials in the process.
And while Paine has emerged as a natural leader within the group, his performances in his dual disciplines were identified by former wicketkeeper turned fielding coach Brad Haddin as being as impressive as ever in the build-up to the third Test.
"I think his keeping has gotten better since the Ashes," Haddin said last week. "I think the dismissal he got up to the stumps off Mitchell Marsh (at a vital stage of the first Test at Durban) was as hard as you get.
"That just goes to the work he's done, and he's been faultless behind the stumps, I think.
"He's also our link between the middle (order) and the tail, and he's really changed the momentum of the game.
"He understands how to play with the tail, whether he needs to push the game forward or shelter the tail a little bit.
"So from his batting point of view as well, and that was brought up before he was picked (for the Ashes), he's really understood his role and made a difference there."
While the focus for now remains on the fallout to the ball tampering scandal across the Indian Ocean, the fact a man of Paine's standing will take the reins has offered some semblance of comfort at a difficult time for Australian cricket.
"He's an excellent choice," Allan Border, Australia's 38th Test skipper, told Fox Sports News on Wednesday.
"He's a very senior guy regardless of the amount of cricket he has played. He's been around the traps, he's a big character.
"It's difficult to be captain when wicket-keeping, it will be difficult for him, but in the interim he will do a good job. It will be very tough, there's a Test match starting in a few days.
"He has to captain, he has new players coming in, it will be a tough dressing room. Talk about a tough assignment. How do you get a group of guys ready?
"He is the right bloke to rally the troops and I wish him well."
Well wishes from Border, who prematurely ascended to the captaincy after Kim Hughes' tearful resignation in the dark days of the 1980s, would be warmly welcomed by Paine as he takes another huge leap forward in his late career resurgence.
And as Border did 34 years ago, Paine takes charge of a team in turmoil.
- with Adam Burnett and Martin Smith
Qantas tour of South Africa
South Africa squad: Faf du Plessis (c), Hashim Amla, Temba Bavuma, Theunis de Bruyn, Dean Elgar, Heinrich Klaasen, Quinton de Kock, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Chris Morris, Wiaan Mulder, Lungi Ngidi, Duanne Olivier, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, AB de Villiers.
Australia squad: Joe Burns, Pat Cummins, Peter Handscomb, Josh Hazlewood, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Tim Paine, Matt Renshaw, Jhye Richardson, Chadd Sayers, Mitchell Starc.
Warm-up match: Australia beat South Africa A by five wickets. Report, highlights
First Test Australia won by 118 runs. Scorecard
Second Test South Africa won by six wickets. Scorecard
Third Test South Africa won by 322 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test Wanderers, Johannesburg, March 30-April 3. Live coverage