Geoff Lemon concludes Steve Smith’s Men, his excellent account of the 2018 Sandpaper affair and its repercussions with a chapter on Tim Paine thus: “No story ever ends: every ride into a sunset has a cold night’s camping ahead. At the time of writing, Australia has a decent man as captain. The question is how long he’ll be allowed to continue to be either!”
There is a strong possibility we may soon have the answer to that question, as the Australian veneer of “elite honesty” is starting to look a little chipped and worn.
After the two defeats against India and some frankly poor behaviour from Paine that he admitted disappointed himself, strong rumours are circulating regarding his sacking. A win rate of 48 per cent as Australia’s leader is solid rather than spectacular and the feeling is that the safe pair of decent hands may be no longer be what is needed, particularly if the mask of decency has slipped.
Whilst all was going well, the passing of Steve Smith’s leadership ban a year ago barely warranted mention. Now, however, like Smith himself, with his ticks, gurns and affectations, it may become impossible to ignore.
Tim Paine had made the perhaps not so startling revelation that the former Australian captain still harbours the dream of leading Australia again and is looking forward to the opportunities that might come his way. Up until fall guy Cameron Bancroft was thrust publicly into the Cape Town spotlight, Smith had been captain across all formats.
Paine reckons that the management is trying to develop more leaders in the squad and Steve Smith is definitely a name in their mind. “There’s no doubt he would like to do it, I think, but we’ll just wait and see what happens in the next six to 12 months; one of the things we’re trying to do is develop more leaders in our team, and Steve Smith is certainly one of those,” Paine told SEN Radio.
The question is would Smith be the right man? And the idea of more leaders in the team smacks worryingly of the “leadership” group that put the smoking gun or sandpaper in Bancroft’s pocket.
Is Smith playing the role of Brutus to Paine’s Caesar? He has certainly taken the opportunity to put the knife subtly into at least one other candidate. Vice-captain Pat Cummins is also a prominent contender for getting promoted to the captain role. However, Smith has given a cold response to the seamer’s captaincy.
“I think being a fast bowler, it would be tough. But that’s not for me to really answer,” Smith said on SEN, having it seems, answered.
Smith had also not credited Cummins for his captaincy while leading New South Wales to victory over Victoria in the 50-over Marsh Cup encounter. Speaking about Cummins, who hit a quickfire 40 and took three wickets, Smith had said, “He was good. Pretty easy day, I think today. I don’t think there was too much to do. Not a tough day, but did good [sic] on his first day.” A clear case of damning with faint praise.
Steve Smith did the crime and he’s done the time. Will Cricket Australia feel that should Paine go, he is the best man for the job? Time will tell. Like the man himself, events will be impossible to ignore.
Jingle by James Sherwood