JOHANNESBURG – Once the forgotten man of Australian cricket, Tim Paine now finds himself as the man charged with restoring the image of a team whose reputation has been dragged through the gutter.
For the 33-year-old wicket-keeper, it’s just the latest in a career which has been marked by rebuilding.
Paine, handed the captaincy following the downfall of Steve Smith, was once destined for the big time behind the stumps, anointed as the logical successor to Brad Haddin.
But fate intervened when he suffered a broken finger in a low-key Twenty20 match in November 2010, just four months after making his Test debut.
The Tasmanian underwent seven surgeries to fix the damage, and his numerous trips to the operating theatre meant his dreams of playing for the national side drifted away as Haddin stood rock-solid before the likes of Matthew Wade and Peter Nevill were handed the gloves.
Paine appeared doomed to see his Test career halted at just four appearances – two against Pakistan in England in 2010 and two more in India later that year.
He was so depressed at the state of his career that he was even on the verge of quitting to take up a job offer with cricket equipment manufacturer Kookaburra.
However, he then received a shock call-up to the Ashes squad in 2017 – a gap of 78 Tests.
He wasn’t the only one surprised by the summons as many in the game expected Nevill to keep the gloves.
Former Australia leg-spinner Stuart MacGill branded the selectors as “morons masquerading as mentors” for selecting Paine, a man who has only one first-class century to his name.
But he proved the doubters wrong in the Ashes as Australia swept to a 4-0 rout of England.
Paine finished the series with 25 catches and one stumping. His opposite number Jonny Bairstow managed just 10 catches and one stumping.
His form with the bat in the series saw a high score of 57 and decent average of 48.
Compared to Smith, however, his batting exploits were modest as the now banned captain, who made his Test debut with Paine against Pakistan at Lord’s in 2010, piled up 687 runs, a high score of 239 and a mind-boggling 137 average.
But his reputation as a quiet but firm leader in Tasmania put him in the frame for the top job after Smith’s downfall, and having stood in on the last day of the fateful third Test at the weekend, he will have the Johannesburg Test starting on Friday to hammer home his case for the job fulltime.
“It has been a horrible 24 hours,” said Paine after Australia slumped to a 322-run defeat on Sunday, a day after the ball-tampering scandal broke at a shocked Newlands.
“We’re struggling, but the reality and the enormity of what’s happened has probably started to sink in
“I don’t think we expected this to be as big as it has been, the fallout we have seen from back home.”