Paine's world: Australia's 'luckiest man' reveals all
From a brash young kid who went run for run with Justin Langer, to Australia's 46th Test captain, Tim Paine has endured and evolved amid trying and atypical circumstances. And as he tells cricket.com.au, he isn't done yet…
Stephen Waugh was watching an episode of Sesame Street with his then two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Rosalie, when he received the phone call that altered his life.
For Ricky Ponting, that transformative moment arrived while he was filming a television commercial, in which he was required to dress as an over-sized can of deodorant.
In the case of Steve Smith, the landmark news was delivered at a most unremarkable, low-rise motel set alongside the A45 motorway on the outer fringes of the faded English Midlands town of Northampton.
Unlike the portentous plume that announces a successful papal conclave, or the election night revelry that heralds a new prime minister (Australia's other sought-after high office), elevation to the post of Test captain carries few formal protocols.
But for Tim Paine, the 46th Australian elevated to that position within the nation's men's cricket team, the crowning came with demonstrably less glory than afforded even his predecessors.
In the days that followed the Cape Town calamity and with the shell-shocked Australia Test squad relocated to Johannesburg for the final match of a fractious tour, Paine was summoned to a meeting within the team's Sandton hotel.
Then-Cricket Australia Chief Executive Officer James Sutherland and former EGM Team Performance Pat Howard told the man with a 12-Test career hewn from eight years of battle-scarred toil that he was to succeed Smith.
Given the tumult of preceding days, Paine felt duty-bound to accept the promotion despite the unease that gnawed within.
"I wasn't keen on it, but I didn't say that," Paine told cricket.com.au of his initial reaction to being installed in Australian sport's most revered role.
"I just thought at the time that I had to do it.
"It was a strange circumstance to have it in, and it wasn't really a time for celebrating.
"After that feeling started to pass, there was probably a bit of unease with the role, as we began to realise how big the story was.
"We knew that it was going to be hard work and a big job, and it was during that period I came to accept that I can only do what I can do, and I've tried to keep things really simple ever since.
"I knew I just had to be myself, be as honest as I could and answer all the questions, and just try and be a normal person who also happens to be the Australian Test captain."
As it transpired, Paine was not the only one who held initial misgivings as to whether he was the right character to take charge of such a sizeable salvage operation.
Justin Langer concedes that when he was confirmed as men's team coach last May, he came to the job with one overriding pang of uncertainty.
"When I was first appointed to this role, Painey was the captain and I thought 'Painey … good bloke and good cricketer, but Australian captain?'" Langer told cricket.com.au on the eve of the Qantas Ashes tour of the UK that begins with the first Test on August 1.
"That was my honest thought – 'Tim Paine, the Australian captain … not sure about that'.
"And then, within no time of starting to work with him, my relationship with Painey was like (snaps fingers).
"He was that impressive – he's a tough pretty boy, and I just love working with him."
The chemistry that fused the new coach and his skipper also helped to salve their respective angst.
Paine maintains that, regardless of which individuals were designated to fill the posts of captain and coach in the aftermath of Cape Town, the authenticity of that partnership would effectively decide how easily (or otherwise) the path forward was traversed.
The fact he knew Langer's methods and manner from his earlier iteration as a Test player in 2010, when Langer was specialist batting coach for the team captained by Ricky Ponting, enabled an easy rapport to develop in the most fraught of circumstances.
And moving on from the Cape Town fallout became the pair's pre-eminent item of business.
"We had to let that go and make sure, instead, that we could bring this team and Cricket Australia to a better place by the time our teammates were ready to return," Paine said.
"That was one part of it, and then there was the public perception and trying to win back the trust and faith of Australia and cricket fans around the world.
"That was a really big task, and we're going to have to do it for a long period of time to get it completely back.
"We've certainly still got work to do, and we're always trying to get better."
Paine's first full leadership assignment was an ODI tour to the UK last June and it proved a daunting baptism.
The on-field impact of the previous months' ructions were starkly exposed by the nil-five scoreline against a rampant England, on whose turf the ICC World Cup would be fought a year hence.
"There's no doubt the dressing room wasn't the same for a while," Paine said of that campaign.
"It was a really hard place to be, because you wanted to go out and compete and win and play hard cricket, but there was a piece of us missing."
It was during that limited-overs series that Langer noted exactly why Paine sported the right stuff to lead Australia's Test rehabilitation after witnessing his captain's courage during the second ODI match against England at Cardiff.
The sight of Paine hauling in a stunning one-handed catch just moments after being struck flush in the face by the ball, and with blood still streaming from his split upper lip, led Langer and the team to invoke memories of other great acts of bravery.
Having visited World War One battlefields in France and Belgium en route to Britain, Paine was then dubbed 'Albert Jacka' in revered reference to the Australian serviceman who earned a Victoria Cross for his heroism in altogether more deadly circumstances at Gallipoli.
Any lingering reservations Langer might have held were dispelled that day.
The coach's characterisation of Paine as a "pretty boy" was born more than a decade earlier, during the pair's first on-field encounter in a 2006-07 Sheffield Shield game between Tasmania and Western Australia at the WACA Ground.
In addition to being rivals, the pair were at contrasting points of their respective careers.
Langer, beginning what would prove his final international summer, scored an unbeaten 188 in WA's first innings which was then surpassed by Paine who plundered a blazing 215 as an opener, in just his fifth Shield game and aged 21.
"I wouldn't say we (had a rapport) that day," Paine recalled of his first brush with then 35-year-old Langer.
"I don't think I was up his alley at all.
"I'd scored 200, I was pretty happy with myself; I had blond tips in my hair and I might even have had a stud earring in at that stage.
"I didn't have any bad moments when I played against him, but I sensed his intensity and he certainly had that aura about him.
"I was staying well away from him, and wasn't trying to upset him or get under his skin."
It's that hard-nosed environment of uncompromising competitiveness that many have cited as the breeding ground for the increasingly win-at-all-costs attitude the men's team came to develop.
Given his Test career effectively unfolded in two distinct parts – amid a group in transition after an era of greatness under Ponting in 2010, then a virtually new coterie upon his recall seven years later – Paine is uniquely placed to compare the evolution in team culture.
And he did not find anything had markedly changed – within the inner sanctum and in the way the team conducted themselves on the field – between his first and second stints as a Test cricketer.
Paine acknowledged that, during his hiatus, he was effectively "only a fan of the Australian Test team" and, in that guise, he knew of the image problem they had begun to develop.
"I was certainly aware that the Australian public were, at times, upset or didn't approve of the way they were going about it as a cricket team," he said.
"And some of that was probably fair enough, but I wouldn't say that I came back in and thought it was a huge issue.
"That (Cape Town incident) obviously is a completely different kettle of fish, but a lot of the changes we have made in the last 12 months have been just little behavioural tweaks.
"There hasn't been huge changes in the way that we play, or the way we go about it."
Asked if he, from the time of his return to Test cricket in November 2017 to Newlands four months later, had suspected any practices other than those prescribed in cricket's laws were being used by Australia's Test team upon the ball, he noted the opacity of that legislation.
And added that if the game more broadly might derive any benefit from Cape Town, perhaps it will come in the form of clearly defined, strictly enforced parameters relating to 'ball maintenance'.
"I think teams are always looking at ways to get the ball to reverse swing," Paine said.
"Whether that's throwing it into (the dirt), or using their fingers to work on the quarter seam, or in England for years it's been talked about mints being used (to impart sheen through players' saliva) - there's always something.
"The worrying trend was that teams were starting to try more and more methods, and getting more adventurous.
"So the thing I hope will come out of South Africa is that it will be cleaned up, and it will be a more level playing field rather than teams trying to push the boundaries and develop a mentality of 'they're doing this, so we'll try this' and 'they do that, so we'll try it too'.
"I think for too long, it was allowed."
Paine remains bemused at the stories and theories that have continued to emerge from last year's South Africa tour, and which he knows categorically hold no basis in fact.
But he's been around professional cricket long enough – he was the youngest player in Australia to earn a rookie contract when signed by Tasmania as a 16-year-old in 2001 – to understand how readily public perception morphs into accepted reality.
He cites his experience in getting to know Langer, and realising how sharply his coach's intensely competitive on-field presence contrasted with the deeply empathetic family man he was revealed to be in private.
Paine finds an even more compelling paradox in the perception-versus-reality narrative that has grown around his teammate and former Test vice-captain, David Warner.
"Davey Warner is a combative, ruthless cricketer and so people automatically think that's what he is as a person," Paine said.
"If you see Davey around team hotels and whenever he's with his family, you see a completely different person to what you see on the cricket field.
"There's the athlete – the cricketer – and then there's the person, and sometimes it's hard for the public to separate the two because they don't see enough of the person away from the game.
"Davey's always polite to fans when I see him around the team, and he goes out of his way to do that … but he gets stuck with what people want to see, which is the aggressive, raw cricketer which also makes him brilliant on the field."
The insights Paine has gleaned from almost 14 years of top-level cricket in Australia and around the world have also granted him greater awareness of the in-game character he fostered in his younger days, and how that might be better reconciled with his adult persona.
In addition to frosted hair and glittering bling, Paine admits he was unwilling to accept input from his teammates when he first took on captaincy duties for Tasmania's Shield and one-day outfits a decade ago.
But now – with so many Test teammates around him who boast far greater international experience than his, and with former leaders Smith and Warner back in the line-up – he has happily adopted a more consultative captaincy manner.
"I don't mind getting suggestions on the field," he said. "In my first stint for Tasmania as captain, I hated it.
"I was of the view back then 'this is where we're going, this is what we're doing', but it's another way that I've evolved.
"I've become a lot more relaxed, and I like to involve people in the decision-making.
"In this day and age, to get complete buy-in you have to listen to people, you have to take on board what they're thinking and listen to what they think might work.
"Then the skill is being able to utilise that information, and get everyone going in the direction that you want.
"But it's not just my decision – it's Justin, and me, and our other team leaders who formulate our plans and strategies.
"Then it's my job to try and make sure we're sticking to what we've planned in meetings and pre-series."
Paine's re-assessment of cricket and his place within it is, in no small part, a product of undergoing the career equivalent of a 'near-death experience'.
The battle he waged against a succession of serious finger injuries coupled with the return of fellow keeper-batter Matthew Wade to Tasmania in 2017 meant Paine had begun actively plotting his post-cricket life.
His well-documented agreement to take a full-time position with sports equipment manufacturer Kookaburra was "virtually over the line" when his recall to Test ranks, and then captaincy of the team, arrived out of the blue.
Had the national selectors not turned to the man Langer rates as international cricket's most naturally gifted gloveman for the 2017-18 Ashes summer, Paine would have been establishing himself in Melbourne and his new job during the South Africa tour that followed.
He had committed to playing the season with Tasmania and Hobart Hurricanes in the KFC Big Bash League before hanging up his gauntlets, but doubts he would have been rendered unfulfilled if the second Test career he's now enjoying had not materialised.
"Could I have been bitter if I had finished then? Absolutely," he said.
"But I'm not someone to look back and think what might have been.
"I was excited to be moving into the role with Kookaburra and starting a second career in cricket, which is what I wanted to do at the time."
The philosophical outlook Paine was prepared to take to an international cricket career that bloomed so brightly in his mid-20s but seemed certain to be truncated at just four Tests come his early 30s, has now been applied to his second-coming.
And it rests snugly with the values that both he and Langer are instilling in the men's team, which further explains the strong synergy between the pair.
"Being a bit older and having been through what I've been through with injury and form, it's just made it easier for me to enjoy the game, and to come back (into Test cricket) and be myself," Paine said.
"Whatever happens, happens – and I don't say that in a flippant way as if I'm not trying.
"I'm still trying my absolute backside off, and I want to get better and I want to win.
"But if things work out brilliantly, then great – if they don't, then still great.
"I was young and a bit brash when I first came in, and I didn't really take in what I was doing and how important it was and how lucky I was.
"Then to have it taken away and struggle even at state level, and to come out the other side of that and get it back, I'm just so grateful every day in this role as captain.
"I absolutely love what I do.
"I'm the luckiest man in Australia as far as I'm concerned, and sometimes you've just got to admit that."
There are other crucial elements that enable Paine to view the office of Test captain with pragmatism and perspective.
Primarily, as the father of two young children (daughter Milla, aged two and son Charlie, almost one) with wife Bonnie, the regular realities of soiled nappies and hands-on parenting ensure he remains solidly grounded.
Furthermore, when he returned from his visit to that Johannesburg hotel room to inform his waiting wife that he had just been appointed Test captain, he received his first lesson in the ephemeral nature of sporting fame.
"Bonnie doesn't know much about cricket, and she wasn't that fussed," Paine recalled of that historic moment.
Now aged 34 and with "seven, maybe eight pins" and a metal plate holding together his damaged right index finger, he knows that the prospect of becoming a former cricketer – which loomed so large 18 months ago – is his constant companion.
For that reason, he bats away the inevitable query about how much longer he can continue playing at the elite level, given the physical toll and the mental fatigue that comes with keeping wickets while captaining a Test team.
Although, he does pause momentarily at the suggestion he might be ideally placed to retire as a national hero in mid-September if he can guide Australia to their first Ashes series triumph on British soil in almost two decades.
"Ooh, that's a toss-up – if you said to me we would definitely win then I might have to consider it," he wondered aloud.
Then he immediately added: "Nah, I would certainly be looking to play on."
"But I'm not taking it any more than year-by-year at the moment, I think that would be silly at my age.
"I can't see the finish just yet and I'm pretty happy to keep going as long as I can, until either the form slips or physically I can't continue to do it.
"At the moment, I'm confident that both will hold up for a few years yet."
Perhaps then he can pursue that sports equipment position that seemed his destiny in late-2017, although the accepted career progression for former Test captains is to the comparative comfort of the television commentary box.
"I'd have to look into that," Paine said of a future in broadcasting.
"Fingers crossed … you just never know what awaits."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Tour match: Hick XII v Haddin XII, July 23-26
First Test: Edgbaston, August 1-5
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: Lord's, August 14-18
Third Test: Headingley, August 22-26
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: Old Trafford, September 4-8
Fifth Test: The Oval, September 12-16