In the lead-up to the Sydney Test, when Tim Paine said that things would get heated up, nobody would’ve expected things to pan out the way they did at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Not just did India battle through to pull off a resilient draw starring Hanuma Vihari and R Ashwin, but more than a few words were exchanged which brought Paine under scrutiny for his conduct on that gruelling final session.
Paine apologised for calling Ashwin a “d**khead” amongst other chatter that the pair indulged in in the heated final session of the third Test that India drew, leaving the series level at 1-1 going to Brisbane. The Australian skipper came under criticism from different quarters for his conduct, particularly from Seven commentator Sunil Gavaskar, who even called for Paine to be removed from the team after the ongoing series.
“I have [noted what Gavaskar said] but I’m not going into it, [and] getting into a back and forth with Sunny Gavaskar,” Paine said on Thursday (January 14). “I don’t think I’m going to win that. Look, he’s entitled to his opinion. It doesn’t affect us one iota. Anything [that it is doing is] it’s adding to the Test match which is great. So Sunny can keep saying what he wants to say but at the end of the day, it’s absolutely got nothing to do with him.”
Along with Paine, Steve Smith came under the scanner once again after the stump cam showed footage of him shadow-batting and then re-marking the centre during a drinks break when Rishabh Pant was batting in Sydney. The Australians defended Smith collectively after further questions were raised on his character. While Smith, as his management revealed, was “shocked and disappointed”, Paine said the setback will bring the best out of his No.4 batsman.
“He’s mentally very strong, very tough,” Paine said of Smith. “He knows that at times he’s going to be criticised, [and] he’s handled that pretty well. Not only this week, but since he’s come back into our side. If anything, he feeds off it. His statistics will speak for itself and we’ll see the best of Steve Smith this week. And we set high expectations for ourselves and last week we didn’t meet them. And when you don’t do that, you leave yourself to criticism and we’ve copped that on the chin. We’re now looking forward to this Test match, [and] controlling what we can control, which has been our preparation and the way we go about this Test. So we can’t wait for tomorrow.”
The Gabba is known as Australia’s fortress for the sheer fact that they haven’t been beaten there since 1988. Although Paine hopes the bounce and speed of the wicket make it hard for India to adjust, he hopes there won’t be any issues with the crowd like there was in Sydney.
“Yeah, it’s right up there. No doubt about that, it’s a hard place to come and play cricket. Even for Tasmanians and Victorians to come here, it can be challenging to adjust to the different bounce (buffering) and speed of the wicket. It’s something that has been to the advantage of Australian teams for a long time. I think I had it in my list of 15 if I remember correctly.
“In terms of crowd behaviour – we don’t condone the abuse of anyone; let alone from the racial standpoint,” Paine said. “So we want people to come along to the Gabba, enjoy the game of cricket, support Australia, support India. Support the umpires if you like. But my suggestion is you leave the abuse at the gate and just respect the players, respect the game and have a good time.”
Paine himself has some work to do in the regard, given that he was the only player on either side who seemed to have visibly lost his calm. It not just caused tensions to come to a boil, but also forced errors on his part as he dropped a three catches on the final day, which arguably cost Australia a win in the end. It stood out a tad further because of Paine’s exceptional record behind the stumps.
“I just think I’ll handle it differently. I let it get under my skin, no doubt about that,” Paine said. “I’ve admitted that – but for me, it’s about rising above it and concentrating on what I’m doing and concentrating on leading my team, not worrying about what is going on with the other side. That’s the focus for us, we’ve spoken a lot this game about controlling what we can control and focusing more inwardly on ourselves. If we do that, we’ll be in a good position.
“If you look throughout my whole career, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of staying relaxed for 99% of it. Again, it’s going back to how I play my best cricket [and] that’s [by] having a smile on my face, enjoying cricket for what it is – a game. And at times the other day, I certainly thought I got caught up in the moment. What I’ve been really good at is being able to step back – even just have a look around the crowd at times – and realise that at that very second, you’re captaining your country in a Test match.
“It’s something I have always wanted to do, so remind yourself that way to enjoy it. Obviously, I’m going to compete very hard, that’s what I do. I want to win as much as anyone and I’m a competitive player but there’s a fine line. It’s the same with my batting – if I’m too tense and trying too hard to fight hard, then I am a pretty ordinary batter. If I look to go out, relax, have fun and look to score then I’m normally a much better player – it’s just a slight tweak in my mindset. It’s nothing new to me, it’s getting back to what I normally do.”