David Warner nowhere to be seen, Steve Smith, for once, letting the team down and none of the other players willing to put their hand up with the country’s ship on the verge of sinking - the night of Day 2 in Adelaide was an unwelcome callback to the Newlands fallout for Tim Paine.
The situations were, of course, chalk and cheese. There Australia’s reputation had been dragged through the sewers, so in the immediate aftermath of the ball-tampering saga, he was called up as a stop-gap fix. Here at stake was not the country’s integrity, yet something they took great pride in; their record in pink-ball Tests. Since the concept of day-night Tests came to fruition back in 2015, Australia, until the first Test in Adelaide, had remained the only country to have maintained a 100% record after playing multiple pink-ball games. India were not just threatening to put an end to the streak but, to vigorously stomp the hosts to death.
The commonality between the two incidents was that not one person gave Paine a tiny chance of pulling Australia out of the galactic hole the team found itself in. Yet, as it turned out, he emerged victorious on both occasions, leaving people to wonder how. Revisiting and reviewing the first Test, it will be the very same question the Indians will be asking themselves - how?
“How did Tim Paine, of all people, snatch the game away from us?” He was, after all, being projected as the weakest link in the entire Australian side, let alone their batting. Not long ago, former Indian cricketer, Mohammad Kaif predicted that Paine would lose his spot by the end of the series, and Shane Warne, on air, on Day 2, questioned the Tasmanian’s credibility. Yet not for the first time in his career, Paine shone like a crazy diamond as darkness loomed and threatened to take over the Australian side.
It cannot be easy being Tim Paine. You are viewed by the entire world as a misfit who is ‘just there’ because of circumstances, and not quality, and all the appreciation that comes your way is generally out of empathy. You are labelled a perennially mediocre cricketer and seen as a temporary captain, not necessarily only because Rishabh Pant said so. For many, you are a burden - and all they are waiting for is the day you will retire so Australia, they think, can finally be devoid of dead-wood and move on to greater things.
The 73* in Adelaide proved that the public couldn’t be farther away from their assessment of Paine and what he means to Australian cricket.
It was poetic that Paine’s first-ever Man of the Match award came on the back of how he smartly and efficiently utilized a second-chance, just as he’s done in life. Four years ago, Paine was banished from the Tasmanian team, after which he was days away from quitting the sport altogether and taking a job with Kookaburra. An unforeseen crisis in the state side would result in Tasmania recalling Paine, after which he would go on to captain Australia to the No.1 ranking in Test cricket and become the first Aussie captain in 18 years to retain the Ashes on English soil.
Similarly, on Friday in Adelaide, it was a drop by Mayank Agarwal that gave Paine a second bite at the cherry, after which he did not look back. Batting on 26, the Australian skipper fell prey to the short ball trap set by the Indians and was a goner for all money had Agarwal’s fingers aligned. Instead, his own stars aligned. He then went on to add what could, in 6 months’ time, potentially be looked back upon as 47 of the most important runs in Australian Test history.
The runs, though, were as important for Paine himself as they were for Australia. Only a week ago he’d seen his heir apparent Alex Carey plunder a counter-attacking 58 in daunting conditions against Bumrah and Shami, and the general consensus was that Paine, much like his counterpart Saha, was a specialist keeper who could not be relied upon with the bat. Yet he smashed the misconception. Not just with the weight of runs, but also with the manner in which he scored them.
In his innings - which was predominantly played in the worst batting conditions; under lights - Paine, according to Cricviz, had a false short percentage of just 11%, a figure bettered by only the other three best batsmen in the game - Kohli, Labuschagne and Pujara. He also batted 75% of his innings with the tail - a skill and a challenge in itself - straddling equally and perfectly between aggression and composure, while also understanding when and when not to trust his partners.
Paine’s innings - although it had its fair share of luck - was worthy of clinching a Man of the Match award, but he would be hoping that it does something more - finally, give his batting the respect it has demanded for a while now. For Paine’s batting has been criminally understated, undermined and disrespected.
With his 73* In Adelaide, Paine officially surpassed Brad Haddin’s batting average of 32.98. What this means is that his average of 33.40 is now the second-best amongst Australian wicket-keepers to have scored at least 1000 runs, better than both Rod Marsh and Ian Healy, only behind Adam Gilchrist. These are impressive numbers, one presumes, for someone whose batting is largely seen as a liability.
So as much as it was a rescue job, Tim Paine’s 73* in Adelaide was a message. Though not meant intentionally, it was a message which resonated loud that he belonged, and he now ought to be taken seriously. The Temporary captain is officially starting to leave a permanent mark in the annals of Australia’s cricketing history.