Nine years after debut, Paine returns to Lord’s for defining Test

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More than nine years have passed since Tim Paine and Steven Smith walked out together as debutants at Lord’s, then the neutral ground for a Test match against Pakistan.

While Smith has been back for two more Tests and one double century since, Paine is returning for the first time, not just as a Test player but also as captain of an Australian Ashes team. This match will go a long way towards defining his career and captaincy.

It’s uncertain how long Paine will lead after this series, and it is difficult to see him pushing all the way through to the Test championship final in 2021. His time is now.

Following their come from behind victory at Edgbaston, Australia have the chance to go 2-0 up, a position from which only one Test series in history has been lost. With the exceptions of 2009 and 2013, Lord’s is exceptionally friendly territory for Australian Test teams, and the match tends to draw a large collection of travellers and expats from the other side of the world to take in the history, the cricket and, more often than not, the victory party.

Tradition hung thick in the air on Monday night, when Paine introduced his touring team at the official welcome for the visiting team at Australia House on the Strand, warmly received by more than 650 guests. History, Paine said in his address, “is all around us”, and he has not missed the significance of the opportunity to make some important history of his own this week.

“From the time I’ve spent with him, not much flusters him unless he has a bad night on Fortnite on the play station, that tends to get to him a bit more than the cricket”

Paine on his BBL mate and Lord’s opponent Jofra Archer

That, in fact, is how Paine thinks he’s changed the most since that first Test – appreciation of his surroundings and moments of import arrives a little more frequently.

“I’ve been here a number of times since but I still sort of remember coming through those gates the first time,” Paine said. “It’s one of those grounds, you get a similar sort of feeling I reckon – whether you’ve been here 10 times, 100 times or it’s your first time. It’s just got that sort of feel about it with the history, barring the media centre up there [at the Nursery End], but yeah I think it’s just a special place to come and play cricket. Everyone, whether you’re English or Australian or from anywhere else – you enjoy coming to this ground.

“England are very lucky but also unlucky. Because this is probably the best ground in world cricket, but it is also a venue where teams love to come and play. You are in London for one, one of the great cities and when you are at Lord’s you are really spoilt. Off field, the facilities are brilliant, it’s always great time for a touring team the week you spend in London and at Lord’s.

“I probably know a few more things now than I did then. I know one thing is that I certainly take it in a lot more now, enjoy what I’m doing. I think back then I didn’t really. I put a hell of a lot of pressure on myself to perform. Probably too much. We have to perform, that’s our job. Back then – even though I was young I didn’t enjoy the cricket as much as I did the off field. Now I tend to enjoy the cricket more than I do the off field. So it’s a nice place to be.”

That level of self-awareness extends to the major reality of Australia’s task this week. Where at Edgbaston they had the enormous good fortune to be facing an England team shorn of James Anderson and thus operating with only four bowlers, here they will be bolstered by the balance of attack they prefer and a fresh, rapid spearhead in Jofra Archer. As well as Australia batted in Birmingham, they will have to be better for longer at Lord’s.

“Yeah I think it’s obviously important to them. we’re slightly different, our bowlers are used to playing with just the four of them, used to that sort of workload,” Paine said. “So no doubt that was something different for some of their players at Edgbaston. That’s Test cricket, you have to be able to deal with that but w’ere expecting they’ll go with what they prefer, which is to have five bowling certainties if you like.

“Coming into this series, we knew Jofra was going to be a key player for them at some stage, we are in a bit of a lucky given guys have faced him, albeit in Big Bash cricket. We know how good Jofra is, we know he bowls fast, we know he is very skillful, he is a great asset for them. It’s not every day a 6’5 or 6’6 West Indian turns up on your door step. We know how good he is and we’re prepared to play him, it’s his first Test match as well so there is going to be plenty of pressure on him.

“From the time I’ve spent with him, not much flusters him unless he has a bad night on Fortnite on the play station, that tends to get to him a bit more than the cricket, but obviously he is a pretty laidback character. Test match cricket is a different beast, it’s up to us to put him under pressure, whether that’s physically and making him bowl a lot of overs and make him back up day after day, I think that can test the very best of bowlers.”

For Australia’s own attack, the question is near identical to that ahead of Edgbaston – does Josh Hazlewod find a way into the team or do the selectors keep James Pattinson and Peter Siddle together to complement Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon? Paine, as part of his leadership, has stressed the need to ensure more players share the load, the better to keep Cummins, Hazlewood, Pattinson and Mitchell Starc in particular on the park for the next four years or so.

“We’ll make a call on the conditions and what we think is going to be the best combination of bowlers but also knowing this is a big series and there’s going to be a lot of overs bowled, and there’s a lot of cricket coming up. We want to make sure the five or six bowlers we’ve got here have the next three or four years bowling as a group together. And there will be some management as part of that at some stage as well.”

Returning to Paine’s legacy, perhaps the biggest resulting from leading the first Australian Ashes win in England since 2001 would be a redefinition of what the national captaincy can look like.

A wicketkeeper, inexperienced in terms of Test played but well travelled in life, and far from the most prominent figure on the Cricket Australia contract list, Paine has brought with him a sense of common purpose not always evident in the past. He is chasing a victory that will not only secure his own reputation, but help chart a more open-minded path for those who follow.

“It’s pretty important when you have got any leadership position whether you are the best player or the most popular player or whatever it is is irrelevant, that’s not just for sport,” Paine said. “Hopefully we can continue to play a good brand of cricket and keep winning games. Potentially I think there’s no reason why a wicket keeper can’t cut it, he’s got the best seat in the house.”

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