Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Paine eyes next 'mouth-watering' Indian summer
Twelve months on from the last Border-Gavaskar series, Australia's skipper looks at the silver linings from a crisis, and the development of his side
Andrew Ramsey in Sydney
7 January 2020, 10:50 AM AEST
It's a year since Tim Paine fronted a media conference in a subterranean room at the Sydney Cricket Ground and exuded a sense of quiet optimism through the disappointment of having overseen Australia's first Test series loss to India on their home patch.
Twelve months on, he returned to that same space after leading the men's Test team through its most emphatically dominant summer and admitting he's already eyeing a return bout with India that seems likely to carry the added piquancy of a prelude to the World Test Championship decider.
While the difference in Paine's demeanour – which rarely deviates from brightly upbeat and respectfully humble – at those disparate press engagements was barely discernible, the on-field results and morale within the dressing room are starkly at odds.
When he spoke in early January 2019, Paine acknowledged that India had triumphed 2-1 largely because their batters had been able to post big scores while no Australia player managed a century, and also due to their ability to field a mostly unchanged XI throughout the summer.
Across five Domain Tests against Pakistan (which yielded two victories by an innings inside four days) and New Zealand (a three-game average winning margin of 274 runs, also with a day to spare each time), Australia made just one change to their playing personnel.
That was the inclusion of fast bowler James Pattinson at the MCG for injured fellow quick, Josh Hazlewood.
But an even bigger turnaround came in the batting, where in the previous Test summer the highest individual score against India had been opener Marcus Harris's 79 in the final Test at the SCG.
This Test season, Paine's team produced a triple-century (to David Warner in Adelaide), a double-century (Marnus Labuschagne in Sydney) and at least one individual hundred in every Test with the only specialist batters not to come within a boundary blow of a ton being Steve Smith and Matthew Wade.
And Smith remains Australia's top-ranked Test batter despite enduring his leanest home summer, which came in the wake of his record-setting Ashes campaign in the UK where he averaged 110.
It's for those reasons that Paine acknowledges that he, his players and many in the wider Australia cricket public already have half an eye on next summer's Border-Gavaskar Trophy series at home, which is the team's only Test engagement for 2020 apart from a two-match tour to Bangladesh mid-year and a one-off match against Afghanistan in November.
"If we go to Bangladesh and play well and get some wins over there, then we come back to Australia playing India, and that's a pretty mouth-watering series for players and for fans," Paine said in the aftermath of Australia's 280-run win in the third Test against New Zealand.
"It's hard not to be looking at that, and we've got some people at Cricket Australia already looking ahead to that series.
"But for the main playing group our next goal is Bangladesh, and we certainly can't take that lightly."
It was a damp and grey afternoon at the SCG 12 months ago when Paine, coach Justin Langer and a group of stony-faced players watched India skipper Virat Kohli hoist aloft the Border-Gavaskar Trophy for the first time on foreign soil.
If there was a similarity between that confronting moment at the end of a rain-ruined Test, and the celebration that followed a whitewash of the Black Caps it was the showers that settled across Sydney's parched landscape an hour or so after stumps on Monday.
But Paine doesn't see the atypical scheduling of a second India Test tour within three years as a chance to redress last summer's loss which came with Smith and Warner sidelined through suspension and Pattinson on his way back to fitness after another long-term injury.
Rather, he views it as a heavyweight bout against the Test outfits who most pundits predict will be among those jousting for a place in the final of the ICC's World Test Championship that will be staged between the two top-ranked teams in the UK in mid-2021.
"I certainly won't be looking at it as revenge," Paine said of India's impending return.
"We're certainly a different side from what they played against here last year, and there's more at stake – there's World Test Championship points at stake.
"Both of the two teams, Australia and India, are eyeing off that final so every point is going to be critical.
"If we can continue our upward trend that we've shown in the last 12 months, then you're potentially looking at the top couple of sides, or teams that are in the top two or three, in the world.
"It's going to be an awesome series.
"I think they (India) showed last year they've got a pace battery that's going to be every bit as good as ours so it's going to be one to watch."
It's not only the improvements in his own bowling stocks – most demonstrably Mitchell Starc whose 11 wickets at 34.53 in four Tests against India last summer contrasted sharply to 29 at 17.44 in five Tests this season – that has Paine excited about the India re-match.
He also believes the opportunities that arose last summer for then-fringe players Labuschagne (the stand-out batter of this Test summer with 896 runs) and vice-captain Travis Head has delivered invaluable long-term developmental benefits.
And on top of those structural changes, there's the shift in mood that comes with winning, a commodity that was difficult to find in the months that followed his unforeseen rise to the Test captaincy in 2018.
"Obviously a lot happier," Paine said when asked about the most marked changes since he sat in the hot seat at the SCG a year ago.
"But I'd say that last year I still felt quite optimistic, and realistic.
"We had some quality players out of our team, and I remember saying at the time that had you taken two of India's best batters out of their side, the result would have been the other way around.
"We spoke a lot last year about there being a silver lining from what's happened (in South Africa).
"The guys who got opportunities to play Test cricket last year who probably wouldn't have (otherwise), one of them is man of the series (Labuschagne) … and Travis Head is still averaging 45 or more in Test cricket.
"They wouldn't have otherwise got the opportunity they had last year.
"And I think the guys that have come back, have come back better players and our whole group and organisation has learned a lot from the last 18 months.
"Just the vibe and energy around our team and around the country has completely changed.
"So for us, as players, to be a part of swinging that around is really satisfying."
Domain Test Series v New Zealand
Australia squad: David Warner, Joe Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Matthew Wade, Travis Head, Tim Paine (c, wk), Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc, Nathan Lyon, James Pattinson, Michael Neser, Mitchell Swepson
New Zealand: Todd Astle, Tom Blundell, Trent Boult, Colin de Grandhomme, Matt Henry, Kyle Jamieson, Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls, Glenn Phillips, Jeet Raval, Mitchell Santner, Tim Southee, Ross Taylor, BJ Watling, Neil Wagner, Kane Williamson (c)
First Test: Australia won by 296 runs
Second Test: Australia won by 247 runs
Third Test: Australia won by 279 runs