Paine doesn't see Ashes triumph as a perfect farewell
Australia’s skipper says injury history means he's physically fitter than most players his age, adds he hasn’t targeted a finish date
Andrew Ramsey in London
11 September 2019, 05:00 PM AEST
The Ashes may be retained, the prospect of Australia's first Test series win against England on their home turf in almost two decades remains live, but skipper Tim Paine insists he's not about to bow out in a blaze of glory.
Having assumed the leadership at one of Australian cricket's lowest points and overseen a rebuild of the team's personnel and brand, Paine has earned the right like few before him to decide how and when he departs the job.
And while the success his men have enjoyed in taking a 2-1 series lead into the final Test where they hope to win their first Ashes series in the UK since 2001 might loom as a timely stepping-off point, Paine is not going anywhere, anytime soon.
Other than back home to Hobart at series end, to spend time with his wife, Bonnie, and their two young children.
At age 34, Paine is hardly in the seniors section of recent Australia Test glovemen.
Brad Haddin, Australia's keeper at the start of the previous away Ashes campaign in 2015, played Tests until he was 37.
Adam Gilchrist and Rod Marsh both hung up the gloves at 36, and Paine's most recent mentor, Ian Healy, was 35 when his career was terminated by selectors.
Adding to Paine's likely longevity is the seven-year hiatus he endured when injuries and rivals kept him out of international cricket, which means he maintains a keen hunger and has not been ground down by the demands of endless touring.
"Not for me, not at the moment," he said at The Oval prior to the start of the final Test on Thursday when asked if he might call time on his tenure at game's end.
"I'm loving doing what I'm doing, and I think while you've got a job that you love you try and do it for as long as you can.
"I did miss a lot, I suppose, in the prime years of my cricket career.
"The positive of that now is that physically I'm in really good condition for my age, and feel really good after Test matches physically.
"Mentally, it's a different story but it only takes a day to recover from that.
"While I keep enjoying it, I'll keep doing it."
Paine acknowledges that another key reason he's been able to remain comparably fresh despite taking on the heavy dual responsibilities of captaincy and wicketkeeping is that his only international obligations are at Test level.
By being able to train his focus on the Test squad and the planning needed for the five-day format, Paine has not only been able to conserve mental and physical energy but then impart that to others in the group who play all formats.
It's an attribute that carries increased value at the end of a five-Test Ashes campaign that immediately followed the ICC World Cup, which has ensured numerous players on both sides of the Ashes rivalry are now battling fatigue.
However, Paine is unwilling to look as far ahead as the end of the ICC's new Test Championship cycle that will see the top-two ranked teams come the middle of 2021 play-off in the UK for the crown and accompanying prize purse.
"I haven't thought about it to be honest," Paine said when asked if 2021 was a logical career end-point given his age and the completion of the Test cycle.
"I haven't thought much past this Test match, as I've said in the last 18 months, I think it's foolish at my age if you do.
"I'm enjoying what I'm doing and whilst I can continue to contribute in some way, I'll continue to do it.
"I constantly talk to JL (coach Justin Langer) and Trevor Hohns (selection chair) about what might happen or how long I might go on for, but I think we're all comfortable and we're all on the same page."
While the quality of Paine's glovework has rarely been questioned, he was demonstrably short of runs with the bat at the start of this series and his captaincy came under scrutiny as England surged to victory on the final day of the third Test at Headingley.
But his decision-making on an equally tense fifth day at Old Trafford last week won plaudits, especially his inspired decision to introduce part-time leg spinner Marnus Labuschagne, who claimed the vital wicket of Jack Leach.
He also found form with the bat in that match, scoring 58 and 23 not out after receiving some sage advice from Healy, who is currently in the UK working as a commentator for Channel Nine.
Before Gilchrist – who averaged 47.61 across his 96 Tests – changed the criteria by which keepers are evaluated, Paine's current batting average of 32.62 would have been rated as highly commendable.
That was the essence of Healy's message prior to the Manchester match, and it was advice that Paine cited as integral to his mindset and productivity at the batting crease.
"He (Healy) just said, and he was probably right, in the Test match at Headingley we got so close to retaining the Ashes that I probably just tried a little bit hard," Paine said.
"And traditionally with me, when I try too hard, particularly with batting, it gets worse and worse.
"His message was to go out and bat like a wicketkeeper, and I think that's when I play my best.
"When I'm looking to score, getting in the contest and just watching the ball rather than thinking too much about it technically because it certainly hasn't worked for me over the journey.
"It's always nice to contribute with the bat.
"I've been given pretty clear instructions from our selectors and our coach on what my role is.
"I think it's probably started to free me up a little bit, and JL has always said to me 'mate, whatever runs you can get, it's a bonus – we want you to be the best wicketkeeper in the world and the best captain you can be of this group'.
"They're the two most important parts of my job, and obviously they want me contributing with the bat, so to contribute last game was great.
"I look forward to doing it a few more times."
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), Jofra Archer, Jonny Bairstow, Stuart Broad, Rory Burns, Jos Buttler, Sam Curran, Joe Denly, Jack Leach, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes (vc), Chris Woakes.
First Test: Australia won by 251 runs at Edgbaston
Second Test: Match drawn at Lord's
Third Test: England won by one wicket at Headingley
Fourth Test: Australia won by 185 runs at Old Trafford
Fifth Test: September 12-16, The Oval