Tim Paine began his first day as fully-fledged Australian captain with one small but significant departure from custom by initiating a pre-game handshake between all players and ended it by flagging a revolutionary departure from custom, at least for his team, by announcing a firm redefinition of the captain’s role.
As the teams began their warm-ups on an overcast Johannesburg morning, he approached his opposite number Faf du Plessis to ask whether the two teams might shake hands at the end of the national anthems, a gesture common to football but only seen in international cricket after a match. Given the events of Cape Town and the fate befalling Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, Paine unsurprisingly has been thinking a lot about the image of the game. The handshakes were a telling way to show it.
“I’ve been watching Supersport this week and they’ve had the soccer on and I notice they do that every game,” Paine said. “I thought cricket is the gentlemans’s game and I spoke to our players about how it was something I wanted to bring in. I waited for Faf to come out today and spoke to him and he was happy to do that. I think he thought it was a good idea and who knows, maybe other sides and South Africa may start to use it as well.
“At times we’ve tended to push the boundaries as far as we possibly could. I think that we’ve seen that people probably don’t like that, so it’s time for us to change”
“It’s not something we are going to do every Test match, but it is not a bad way to start a Test series. I think it’s something that we will use going forward; I just think it’s a good show of sportsmanship and respect. In this series, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge and a bit of tension between the two sides, we want to be super competitive but we also want to be respectful of our opposition, so it was important we showed that. It’s something we want to take forward and, if other teams want to do, we’ll do it to start every series.
“It was still competitive, there wasn’t too much verbal going on back and forth between the two sides, we’ve spoken a bit about that as a group, about that going forward that is not the way we are going to play our cricket. It still felt like a Test match, it was still really competitive, we were playing a different style but as well a lot of the guys were thinking about some other things or were a little bit flat.”
A little over six hours after the handshakes, Paine sat before the media and contemplated leadership beyond this day. Should he remain captain, he said he wanted to redefine the post as a collaborative part of a wider whole, rather than the traditional branding of it as the major leadership rose above all others. Paine is clearly not a subscriber to the oft-quoted line that the position of Australian captain is second only to that of the Prime Minister.
“I think at the moment that it’s something that I probably will be doing,” Paine said when asked whether he would want the captaincy long-term. “I have not put a hell of a lot of thought into anything past this week. Now we’ve also got a new coach that’s got to be appointed, who’s going to want a say on the way we go about it, the way I go about it.
“My captaincy style will be – I’ve never been a big believer in the cricket team being the captain’s team, I think that’s a bit old school. When you didn’t have all the resources that we do now, I see the captain’s role as being that link between the players and the staff and just a really small, privileged role within Cricket Australia. But it’s just one part of the wheel and I’ll be trying to be very involving of all my staff, all my players and that’s the way I operate best.
“A lot of our focus as a team has been around this week, we are not looking too far ahead at this moment. I know it’s a cliche in sport that you get that ‘one week at a time’, but at the moment we’re taking it one day at a time and slowly trying to build back the respect of the cricket world, our fans and the public. We know we’ve got a long journey ahead of us to get where we want to get to, but the last couple of days have been the start of that long journey.”
Paine has gained most of his leadership experience as a lieutenant of George Bailey in Tasmania. He said that he wanted to foster an environment where players did not feel they had to conform to a narrow idea of what an Australian Test cricketer should be. Instead, they needed to be themselves, with the team broadening its horizons to make allowances for that sort of diversity.
“We still want to keep a really competitive brand of cricket but I think there’s times we’ve got to be more respectful of our opposition, we’ve got to be more respectful of the game of cricket,” Paine said. “At times we’ve tended to push the boundaries as far as we possibly could. I think that we’ve seen that people probably don’t like that, so it’s time for us to change.
“We haven’t got too many guys that like to verbalise and have that sort of really hard-nosed Australian approach. We’re about creating an environment where guys can come in and play cricket and just be themselves”
“We’re happy to do that, I think it actually suits this group of players, we’re a different group of players than Australia have had for a long time, we haven’t got too many guys that like to verbalise and have that sort of really hard-nosed Australian approach. We’re about creating an environment where guys can come in and play cricket and just be themselves. I think if we can achieve that then we’ll have guys having better results as well.”
Paine’s desire to establish a culture that was inclusive even led him to picture the returns of the players who had been banned for ball-tampering. The anguish shown by Smith and Bancroft upon their arrival home had clearly left a mark. “I think a few guys watched it and I think it really cut them up, as it did anyone that watched that,” Paine said.
“We saw how difficult it was and how much not playing for Australia is hurting those guys. I think it’s really important for us to realise how lucky and privileged we are. We want to make this environment in the Australian cricket team one that people can come in, be themselves and play their cricket to their best of their ability. And we want to have that sorted by the time that those guys are ready to come back into this team.”
Reflecting on the events of the past week, Paine quipped that his visiting wife had not seen much of him due to all of the many meetings and coffees needed to try to rebuild a team that had lost so much in the space of only a few days. “It’s been strange and very difficult,” he said. “I don’t think my wife’s too happy, I’ve hardly seen her for the last couple of days and she’s come over for it.
“It’s just been really challenging for everyone involved. It’s a really stressful time and our thoughts are certainly with our team-mates who aren’t here at the moment. We’ve had conversations and a lot of coffees with each other talking about what we’re going to do to change and how we’re going to do that going forward. From all this dark cloud at some stage there’s going to be a silver lining and I think all the guys are really keen to be involved in how that looks.
“We’ll look to get through this week and we go home. We’ve got a fair bit of time off and potentially a new coach will come in and share some ideas with us. Got a fair bit of time before our next Test where we can all get together and I’m going to be very involving of our whole staff and playing group. We’ll all sit down and map out how that looks, how we’re going to play.”