Pleasure and Paine: Keeper's Test origin story gets sequel
From his Test debut at the Home of Cricket to his return as Australia captain more than nine years later, Tim Paine has been on an epic journey
It's difficult to imagine that any experience could top Tim Paine's first encounter with Lord's on the opening morning of a Test match.
It's nine years, a month and a few days since Paine became a Test cricketer, his ascension crowned with the presentation of a Baggy Green Cap on the similarly verdant outfield of cricket's most precious and prestigious address.
Even though the then 25-year-old was given his chance because of an elbow injury to incumbent gloveman Brad Haddin, now the men's team fielding coach and wicketkeeping mentor, it was tipped he might be embarking on a prosperous career in the Test arena.
At the time, he became the second-youngest (after long-time vice-captain Ian Healy) wicketkeeper to take up the position behind the stumps for Australia in Test matches.
But just as fate had installed him to the position, so too did it excise him when a badly fractured finger in late 2010 saw Haddin return to the job and Paine spend seven years waiting for another opportunity.
On Wednesday, he returns to Lord's for his first Test match since that debut Test, not only as his country's first-choice wicketkeeper once more but as captain of a team holding a one-nil lead in an Ashes series.
And as he dons his skipper's blazer and heads to the centre wicket for the coin toss with England counterpart, Joe Root – six years Paine's junior but boasting 60 Tests additional experience – he will be more acutely aware of his surrounds and its significance than on that historic July morning in 2010.
"They do a little bit, as you're walking through the gates," Paine said, when asked if memories of his Test debut flood back upon re-acquainting himself with the famous north London playing surface.
"I've been here a number of times since (2010), but I still remember coming through those gates the first time.
"It's one of those grounds, you get a similar sort of feeling I reckon – whether you've been here ten times, one hundred times or it's your first time.
"I probably know a few more things now than I did then.
"I know one thing is that I certainly take it in a lot more now and 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, but back then – even though I was young – I didn't enjoy the cricket as much as I did the off-field (activities).
"Now I tend to enjoy the cricket more than I do the off-field, so it's a nice place to be."
If Paine's recent Test journey has been stunningly unorthodox, it is perhaps no great surprise given his arrival at the game's premier level was decidedly unusual.
Since the Australia men's team's first 'formal' Ashes tour in 1880, 24 of the 458 players (barely five per cent) to reach Test ranks have made their debut at Lord's – half of those in the 19th Century.
Yet only two of that exclusive club can claim the honour in a Test match that did not feature England.
When Paine made his debut in July 2010, it was the start of a two-Test series against Pakistan who were compelled to play their international cricket at neutral venues because of the security concerns that continue to cloud matches in their home land.
Alongside him on that 2010 morning at Lord's was spin-bowling allrounder Steve Smith, just weeks after turning 21 and embarking on what would prove a vastly different, though ultimately intertwined Test journey.
Smith has gone on to play a further 64 Test matches, while Paine has taken his tally to 22, and can lay credible claim to being the pre-eminent Test batter in the world.
Yet, when they lined up alongside one another to receive their Australia Test caps, Paine was listed to bat ahead of his younger fellow debutant – at number seven in the order, while Smith began his career at number eight.
"I think Smithy still had a bit more ability," concedes Paine, who averages 34.10 with the bat in Tests while Smith has lifted his average to a remarkable 62.96 after twin centuries in the first Ashes Test of the current series at Edgbaston.
Whether that view was shared by the team's then batting coach in 2010, Justin Langer, is not known.
But what neither Paine nor Smith can claim to be in any doubt about is the view that Langer, now men's team coach, holds as the trio are reunited at Lord's for the first time in a Test match.
Prior to Monday's major training session for Paine and his men at cricket's spiritual home, the entire squad gathered in the visitors' dressing room where Langer delivered a stirring address.
Incredible to think Steve Smith started his Test career as a leg-spinning allrounder compared to where he is now ... 🤯 pic.twitter.com/erpLCp6W1q— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) August 7, 2019
Despite holding a 1-0 lead in the five-match series, the coach reminded his players they had essentially achieved nothing until the Ashes urn was secured.
Langer then name-checked those who had performed best at Edgbaston – Smith with his dual tons, Nathan Lyon with his decisive six-wicket haul on day five, Matthew Wade with his comeback century – and reminded them they all effectively start again at Lord's with a blank slate.
And that Australia's aspiration to win an Ashes series in the UK for the first time since 2001 depends on them, and their teammates, redoubling their efforts form the first Test.
It was the sort of galvanising address that left Paine almost feeling a pang of sympathy for his Ashes rivals, who have lost more than twice as many Tests to Australia (15) than they've won (7) at their most famous home venue.
"England are very lucky, but also unlucky because this is probably the best ground in world cricket, but it is also a venue where teams love to come and play," Paine said, in explaining why visiting teams often excel at cricket's home.
"It's because you are in London for one, one of the great cities, and when you are at Lord’s you get really spoiled – off-field the facilities are brilliant.
Fair to say Justin Langer is PUMPED to be back at Lord's! 😂 pic.twitter.com/GOWJepTdzy— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) June 7, 2018
"It's always a great time for a touring team, the week you spend in London and at Lord’s.
"I think it's just a special place to come and play cricket and everyone, whether you're English or Australian or from anywhere else, you enjoy coming to this ground."
2019 Qantas Ashes Tour of England
Australia squad: Tim Paine (c), Cameron Bancroft, Pat Cummins, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Peter Siddle, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Matthew Wade, David Warner.
England squad: Joe Root (c), Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Olly Stone, Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia beat England by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Tour match: Australians v Worcestershire, August 7-9
Second Test: August 14-18,Lord's
Third Test: August 22-26, Headingley
Tour match: Australians v Derbyshire, August 29-31
Fourth Test: September 4-8, Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval