“We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.” This message, one of many famous lines delivered by Sir Winston Churchill in his speech to the House of Commons following the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940, was not a million miles from the sentiment of Australia’s captain Tim Paine in the moments after his side salvaged the unlikeliest of draws against Pakistan in Dubai.
Having marked the stalemate with his own fist pump and congratulations for the other not-out batsman Nathan Lyon, Paine saw the Australian viewing area beginning to erupt in celebrations. Recalling the words of the former England captain Michael Vaughan after another narrow escape by Australia, at Old Trafford during the 2005 Ashes, he immediately gestured to his men to settle down. This draw, miraculous as it was, needed to be viewed in perspective.
“Just when I saw a little bit of it [the celebrations] spilling out the door, I think it was the Forged In Fire documentary we watched last year during the Ashes and Michael Vaughan said after one of the Tests that he felt as an opposition captain that they had them when he saw them celebrating a draw,” Paine said. “I’ve seen that myself before.
“I think we were clearly pretty excited by what we’ve been able to achieve because it doesn’t happen too much, but you’ve got to keep a bit of perspective on it and realise that we had been outplayed particularly over the first few days. While it was great we did fight back, a draw is a draw and we’re here to win.”
Vaughan’s words had been in reference to watching a great Australian team overwhelmed with relief at having escaped defeat, as he recounted to the Telegraph in 2013: “At the end we were down because we had missed a chance. But I remember Brett Lee and [Glenn] McGrath hugging each other in the middle as if they won the World Cup. I looked behind me and saw them jumping up and down on the balcony. I told the lads to look at them celebrating. I never thought I would see an Australia team celebrate a draw. I said: ‘If we play like this, and I know we will be better at Trent Bridge, then the Ashes will be ours, no question. We have got them mentally’.”
Nowhere is the mental battle intrinsic to Test cricket more vital than in the unrelenting heat and dry, dusty conditions of the UAE. Paine has made it clear to his men that while there is a great deal of succour to be taken from the Dubai rearguard, more must be done in Abu Dhabi if the touring team are to gain Australia’s first win in a Test series in Asia since the 2011 Sri Lanka tour.
“It’d be a massive thing for any Australian side, and for this one in particular,” Paine said. “Touched on it last week that not many people gave us a chance over here, which is a great opportunity for us to prove people wrong and a great thing to keep driving us. We’re trying to get better every day, and if we manage to play our best next week maybe that is possible. But we’ve got to turn up for a really tough match, it’s going to last five days and we’ve got to be on for all of those five days and every session.
“Last week when we dropped the ball a little bit for a session, the game can be taken away from you really quickly here. We’ve got to take it, as boring as it is, a day at a time, a session at a time, and if we do that, we know we’ll be right in it at the end. I think the fact that guys in the second innings saw that their plans would work over here [helps]. You never know. You can have the greatest plans in the world but until you get out in the middle in a Test match under that sort of pressure you never know.
“For guys to actually go out and do it, they’ll take a lot of confidence out of that, we’ll clearly as a team take a fair bit of momentum out of it. But we spoke again this morning about the need to turn up here in the next couple of days and start getting our mind around the fact it’s going to be a real battle again for five days and that’s how cricket is played over here.”
By way of adjustment, Paine said he was considering a shuffle of the batting order after the struggles of Shaun and Mitchell Marsh in the first Test at Nos. 3 and 4. But he confirmed the top six would be the same in personnel if not order of appearance, with the only question of selection around whether to include one of Michael Neser or Brendan Doggett at the expense of Jon Holland, given the well-grassed appearance of the Abu Dhabi surface relative to Dubai.
“While it was great we did fight back, a draw is a draw and we’re here to win.”
Paine’s captaincy has evolved quickly in a short space of time, since he was thrust into the role by the extraordinary circumstances of the South Africa tour and the Newlands ball tampering scandal. He reflected upon trying to be mentally fresher than he was at his first attempt in the England ODI series mid-year, where he trained so much as to find himself fried when match day came around – something underlined by a wide margin of defeat. In Dubai his immaculate wicketkeeping and second-innings defiance illustrated far more reserves of mental and physical energy, the better to outlast Pakistan’s bowlers.
“I think in England one thing I learned was I probably trained too hard and tried too hard,” Paine said. “I was getting into games quite mentally worn out I guess. I was using quite a lot of energy even when I wasn’t at the cricket. So it’s just being able to relax a little bit more and not train as hard.
“In the last 12 or 18 months I’ve probably been as fit as I’ve ever been. My wicketkeeping to be honest hasn’t changed too much. I keep that pretty simple. I do a lot of work at home by myself with a golf ball and I just find that that’s been the best way for me to prepare. It’s a good way to just make sure that I’m getting myself in good positions. I’ve wicketkept a lot over the years so I know if my body and head are in a good position, I’ll catch more than I drop. That’s just been the focus for me.
“I saw Ian Healy years ago doing it so I do that. I can do it up standing up, I can do it standing back. The beauty of it is I can catch 10 times as many balls as if I had someone hitting me balls. A lot of the time at Bellerive I just go up the back of the grandstand by myself for an hour or two just banging the golf ball up against the wall. It’s pretty boring but in some weird way I really enjoy it. I find it relaxes me as well and allows me to go into a Test knowing I’m in a good place.”
As for Pakistan, with their captain and fellow wicketkeeper Sarfraz Ahmed criticised for trying too many things on the final day, rather than sticking rigorously to one or two plans, Paine struck a note of sympathy. Given the year he’s had, Paine knows as well as anyone that captaincy is far from a simple task.
“Over here you’ve got to think of different things [to get people out], there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “I hadn’t read any of it to be honest, but I find it interesting when you do too much, you’re doing too much, and when you don’t do enough you haven’t done enough. What I do know is that captaining a Test team out in the middle is a lot harder than it looks sitting in the commentary box.
“It’s one of those things, you can get nailed for it either way, so it can be a hard job, but I’m sure they know what they’re trying to do, we certainly know what we’re trying to do, and what matters to us is what’s inside our four walls and I’m sure Sarfraz and Pakistan are the same.”