In the moments after India secured an unlikely draw at the SCG, Australia’s captain Tim Paine privately conceded to R Ashwin that he had made himself “look the fool” by calling the touring spin bowler a “d*******” and then following up by dropping his third catch of the day.
Fewer than 24 hours later, Paine elected to publicly apologise for poor behaviour on the field throughout the Sydney Test while also conceding that his darkening mood ultimately contributed to his team’s failure to close out victory over India as his usually supple gloves clanged vital chances offered up by Rishabh Pant and Hanuma Vihari.
At the age of 36, nearly 18 months after he had originally pondered retirement at the end of the 2019 Ashes, Paine is well aware that in terms of both performance and behaviour he cannot afford anymore days like the final one of the SCG Test, and made that much patently clear after jumping into the media seat as a last-minute substitute for Nathan Lyon.
“International cricket at the moment with the hub life and in the bubble you have a fair bit of time to yourself and last night for me was one of those moments to sit back and reflect on the Test match. I think it was important to address some things from yesterday,” Paine said. “I want to apologise for the way I went about things yesterday. I’m someone who prides themselves on the way I lead this team and yesterday was a poor reflection of that.
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"My leadership wasn't good enough, I let the pressure of the game get to me, it affected my mood and then from there affected my performance. Yesterday when I came off the ground my reflection was purely on my wicketkeeping. Sitting back last night and reflecting on the whole game, I think I said to our players yesterday I've had a really poor game as a leader, not so much as a captain but certainly as a leader.
"I'm a captain who wants to enjoy the game. I'm a captain who wants to play the game with a smile on their face and yesterday I fell short of my expectations and our team standards. So I'm human, I want to apologise for the mistakes that I made yesterday. It's certainly not a reflection of the way I want to lead this team. We've set really high standards over the last 18 months and yesterday was a bit of a blip on the radar and something that I felt I needed to come out and address."
On reflection, Paine recognised that his mood had been poor for several days before the conclusion of the match, reflected in his ICC fine for dissent when questioning a not out verdict via the DRS during India's first innings. He will speak to the team once they reconvene in Brisbane ahead of the series decider that begins on Friday.
"Bitterly disappointed with the way I went about it. I felt my mood throughout the whole Test match was probably a little bit off, the way I spoke to the umpires early on day two was also unacceptable," he said. "I've got to cop that on the chin, it's not the way I want to lead this Australian team, certainly not a reflection of how I want to do it going forward. I always talk to our players about playing this game on skill and not on emotion and yesterday I fell short of my own standards and expectations."
Paine noted how his increasing levels of agitation ultimately led to him being too tense and stiff in the shoulders and hands, leading to the dropped chances that went a long way towards averting defeat for India. However he was also firm that in recognising this, he would work to get back to his best at the Gabba and had not considered giving the captaincy or the wicketkeeping gloves away.
"Normally for a wicketkeeper if I'm dropping catches then I've looked at the technical stuff and that was okay, so for me I think it was all around my mood, being a bit tense, and not being focused on my number one job at the time, which is to catch the ball," he said. "I was distracted by other stuff and a little bit agitated and grumpy at times. So for me the best version of Tim Paine playing cricket and wicketkeeping and captaining is someone who's got a smile on his face, someone who is enjoying the game and when I'm like that, I'm a very good wicketkeeper.
"I think if you pretend yesterday was okay, and my behaviour was okay and my wicketkeeping was okay then you've probably got a problem. But I've said a few times in the last six months I feel like I'm actually getting better as a cricketer. I've played my best cricket in the last six months, yesterday was a poor day."
Asked whether he had set back the regeneration of the Australian team, a long process going back to the infamy of the Newlands scandal in 2018, Paine said he and the team wanted to be known for setting high standards of behaviour, rather than the opprobrium he has faced for the way he carried himself at the SCG.
"I think the standards we've set ourselves over the last two and a half years has been a really high standard and we want that," Paine said. "We know people around the country look up to us and look to us for leadership and our kids look up to us as heroes. So we know people expect that from us now and we understand that's how it is and we sign up for that and I was the one who fell short of that yesterday.
"I spoke to JL [Justin Langer], Andrew McDonald and Matthew Mott - and that was exactly what I said, I felt I had a really poor game in terms of my leadership and that affected our team.
"I raised it with [Langer] and said - look, there's little things, I'm normally a pretty relaxed person in the changerooms. And even when we were batting in this Test, I was on edge - I was wandering around the changerooms. I couldn't sit still, couldn't watch and I think that added to the tension in our changerooms and I pride myself on, if anything, taking the tension out of our changeroom, not adding to it."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
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