‘We can put as many words as we like out there, but it’s the way we play. It’s the way we are on and off on the cricket field. And our actions will speak a lot louder than any words we write down.’
Justin Langer in November 2018.
Seems a long time ago, doesn’t it? This quote was just before Australia played South Africa in their first matches back on Australian soil after the well documented events in Cape Town in March of that year.
Tim Paine wasn’t a part of that ODI series, or the T20I that followed against the same opponents, but he returned as test captain for the four match home series against India that followed in December and January. In the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner, India won the Border–Gavaskar Trophy 2-1, their first test series win in Australia.
On day four of the second test in Perth, Virat Kohli and Paine were involved in a verbal spat. This happened after Kohli had celebrated a couple of Australian wickets. As he later recalled in the Amazon Prime documentary, ‘The Test’, that was the time Paine thought enough was enough.
‘He had given send-offs to a few of our players. I sort of just had enough and thought you also have to stand up for yourself and your teammates and that was one of the reasons I thought, ‘no, I’m the captain, it’s my turn, I have to stand up and show him we’re here for the fight.’
Paine went on to be the first Australian captain to retain the Ashes in England in 18 years, when his team drew the 2019 series 2-2. He was building a reputation as a captain respected by his team and coaches. There was even a witty, intelligent nature to his sledging, in what appeared to be a significant change of approach from many who had gone before; hard but fair; banter, not abuse. Nathan Lyon said of Paine last year:
‘He seems to be getting better as captain. I love playing under him, the way he brings his humour in to distract opposition or having a little bit of banter. I think it’s absolutely priceless and I think the Australian public really respects Tim.’
Fast forward to the events of this past week and the third test of the current series against India in Sydney. On day three, Paine reviewed a delivery from Lyon to Cheteshwar Pujara, which he was confident had been edged to Matthew Wade at short leg. On-field umpire Paul Wilson ruled it not out and TV umpire Bruce Oxenford could not see sufficient evidence to overturn the decision.
Paine argued Oxenford hadn’t examined the off-side angle of Hot Spot closely enough, to which Wilson replied ‘(Oxenford is) making the decision, not me. I’m not the third umpire’ before Paine continued, ‘Fucking consistency, Blocker (Wilson’s nickname). There’s a thing that goes past (the bat). There was definitely a thing on Hot Spot. What’s the fucking difference? Or Snicko.’
Paine was found to have breached article 2.8 of the ICC Code of Conduct – which relates to showing dissent during an international match – and one demerit point was added to his disciplinary record. He was also fined 15 per cent of his match fee.
Entering day five of the test, Australia were strong favourites to win. India were 98-2, needing a further 309 to win, or survive the day to ensure the series remained 1-1 heading into the final test of the series, starting in Brisbane on Friday.
With India losing a further three wickets, Hanuma Vihari and Ravi Ashwin embarked upon a 42.4 over resistance to earn the draw, but in the evening session things got ugly during an over where Lyon was bowling to Ashwin. Ashwin pulled out of a delivery as Lyon was halfway through his run-up and the following exchange ensued:
Paine: ‘We can’t wait to get you to the Gabba, Ash.’
Ashwin: ‘Just like we want to get you to India. It’ll be your last series.’
Paine: ‘Maybe, are you a selector here as well? At least my teammates like me, dickhead. I’ve got a lot more Indian friends than you do. Even your teammates think you’re a goose. Don’t they. Every one.’
Matthew Wade: ‘Just don’t end up with a broken rib.’
Ashwin, pulling away from the next Lyon delivery: ‘Tell me when you’re done.’
Paine: ‘I can talk all day mate. You wait until you get to the Gabba pal.’
After the next Lyon delivery, Paine: ‘How many IPL teams wanted you when you asked every single one of them to have you? If you captain, oh coming from captain.’
Two balls later, Paine: ‘I‘ve already played a series in India … can’t remember my average, 60 something.’
In the following over, Paine dropped a catch off the batting of Vihari. It was his third drop of the day, having missed the opportunity to dismiss Rishabh Pant twice earlier in the day.
Paine’s behaviour on days three and five has drawn widespread criticism. Born of frustration, reeking of desperation, his sledging wasn’t witty or clever. It was insulting and sneering in its content. It was an excuse for cricket fans to recall past Australian teams and individuals who spoke and behaved like this. His questioning of the decision on day three was disrespectful and an awful example from any cricketer, but especially an international captain.
Rosalind Dixon, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald said:
‘Sledging ultimately trades on the idea that it is acceptable to insult others in order to provoke them. And all insults that demean or degrade others ultimately perpetuate the kind of culture of discrimination that was sadly on display among the crowd in Sydney.’
You hadn’t forgotten about that had you? Didn’t think so.
A pain in the backside usually feels better after a while. A broken limb takes much longer to heal. I thought Tim Paine had been taking the right course of treatment, but it seems, sadly, I was wrong.
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