The shock of Tim Paine’s announcement is still resonating – but a few burning questions are already being asked by fans and pundits alike.
After the Test captain resigned from the team over a 2017 sexting scandal was leaked to the media, he said he wants to stay in the team going forward – but can that really happen?
Here are the burning questions still to be answered in the coming days and weeks after the astonishing facts in the Paine case came to the surface.
Can Paine continue in the team?
At his press conference this afternoon, Paine said he would stay in the team – a stance that was backed by Cricket Australia boss Richard Freudenstein. But the first Ashes Test is still a fortnight away, which can be an eternity in sports – particularly as a story like this will bubble away for weeks, if not months.
Paine insists he doesn’t want to be a distraction – and fair enough. But how much more distracting could things get than the Barmy Army waving toy telephones, or Jonny Bairstow chirping him from short leg with lines from the leaked text messages?
The English media haven’t even woken up to this story yet, and will have an absolute field day with this scandal. If Paine wants to do the best thing for the team, perhaps stepping away is the right move.
Should he continue in team?
Ignoring every hypothetical about bad optics or distractions, Paine was thrust in the job in 2018 as a reluctant wartime leader – a well-respected and calm head during arguably the most tumultous time in the history of the Australian men’s cricket team.
He earned significant praise for his leadership and rightfully so, but if he isn’t the captain, do his numbers back up his retention?
Paine is probably a better pure glovesman than Alex Carey, but the latter’s form with the bat leaves Paine in the dust at Shield level. Jimmy Peirson and Josh Inglis are also better runscoring options than the outgoing captain, who has struggled at Test level with the bat.
T20 World Cup hero Matthew Wade would be another potential short-term replacement, but seems to be out of favour in red ball cricket and no longer keeps for his state in Shield cricket. He was quoted earlier this week as saying he wants to “sail off into the sunset” from the sport altogether after the next T20 World Cup.
Who are the new captaincy candidates?
Pat Cummins said earlier this week that he was ready to lead the team, when Paine was on his way back from having surgery on a bulging disk. There was little doubt that Paine was going to lead the team at the Gabba, but with today’s resignation comes the reality that the NSW quick will almost certainly become the skipper in the short-term.
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But what about down the line? Teams are often reluctant to hand leadership roles to bowlers, and whether or not Paine is the keeper, that player won’t be the captain either. With two spots still up for grabs in the top six, there aren’t many other options. It won’t be David Warner or Cameron Green, so if it’s not Cummins down the line that only leaves two options.
One, of course, is going back to Steve Smith. The nation has forgiven the former captain (although many maintain he was hard done by from the start) and it would be a fitting end to his redemption arc. But if the dirt attached to the sandpaper scandal remains too much for the decision makers, the only other viable option would be Marnus Labuschagne.
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He’s 27 and entering the prime of his career, his spot in the team is in no jeopardy, and we’ve seen from videos that he’s extremely talkative in the field.
Back in June, Paine endorsed the Queenslander as a potential successor, saying: “He’s got leadership in him, there’s no doubt about that – the way he goes about it, the way he treats people, the way he works on his game … with some time (he) will become an excellent leader for this squad.
“He’s got some real natural leadership ability and if that’s harnessed and helped, I think he’ll be a great captain.”