“Yet destiny works in strange little ways. In a gasp, the gloveman stands at the cusp of history if he manages to win the second Test and even if a triumph deserts him, his outlook towards sports – the un-Australian outlook towards sports, rather – will forever be celebrated”
“Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight.”
It must be scary, the sudden bestowing of power upon an individual so accustomed to living in the firing line. Uncertain of a slot due to unimpressive performances in the national colors, a player mentally switches to the realization that his long-held childhood dream might never flourish the way he had planned it to. With unbeatable superstars in the midst, the perpetual under-performer is present, yet unnoticed; his contributions seen but rarely applauded.
Until the day it is. Until a horrific controversy has busted the spell on the magical stars and the onus falls on the peripheral cricketers to get up, stand up and fight. The loyal sports fans, betrayed and battered, look up to you with expectations so high that it is impossible not to pledge and help them believe in the world of sports again.
The rattled media that had been covering your lop-sided journey till now quizzes you on the steps that you shall take to bring the glory back into cricket again.
The Prime Minister views you as an essential entity who will restore the reputation of the country once more even as the rivals see you and your team with disdain. Losers, cheaters, scoundrels – the unanimous cry.
More importantly, cricket needs you. It needs you to be a fierce yet friendly competitor. It needs you to wipe away the tarnish it never deserved and it needs you to be true. Towards the spirit, towards sportsmanship and towards the way it is hence to be played.
Tim Paine, struggling to find supporters till even twelve months back, found himself on unfamiliar territory after the incidents of the Sandpaper Gate had been unearthed this February. Steven Smith, potentially the best batsman in the format, and David Warner, the blitz and brash player, were in the eye of the storm and as the duo were frisked away to further alienate Australian Cricket from the cricketing realm, the selectors turned to the keeper to help erase the years of disrepute Australian cricket had been reeling under.
Sledging masters. The tendency to win by hook or crook. Little respect for the opponents. Even lesser for the rules of the sport.
“Friends, Romans, Countrymen… lend me your ears.”
Marc Antony’s eloquent speech in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caeser has been vastly applauded for the shrewdness and the rhetoric by the emperor’s trusted aid after he was assassinated. By calling the listeners as his comrades, Anthony succeeds in establishing a close aid with the audience, who had earlier been swayed by yet another impactful speech by Brutus. This is the journey that Paine too decided to tread upon, and by introducing the pre-match handshake ritual he portrayed that the responsibility that had been thrust on him would not be taken lightly.
He was here, to not only win games, but hearts as well. To script a new era and to bring Australian Cricket to the pinnacle once again.
However, the aim was short-sighted as a whitewash in England greeted the Kangaroos in their first series after the incident in South Africa. Unable to gauge the skills of their rivals, Australia succumbed; but as it was later revealed it was the intent to make things right that got to Paine.
“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.”
Once the Test squad stepped in UAE, head coach Justin Langer was eager to make his boys sweat. With three debutants in the playing XI, a dodgy batting unit, batsmen fraught with technical frailties and with searing temperatures, the task was cut out for the side and for well over four days, the first match looked poised against them as well. Needing an improbable 462 runs in the fourth innings for a win, the wave of resolve that had stemmed from Paine’s temperament could be seen in the likes of Aaron Finch and Usman Khawaja, who broke their backs gritting it out in the sullen conditions.
With the foundation laid, it was in the hands of skipper Paine to lead from the front against a threatening Yasir Shah. Dodging the bullet and staying put for 194 deliveries en route an unbeaten 61 that finally saw Australia draw, one could not help but admire the mental strength of the cricketer who had been on the tender-hooks a few months earlier. Paine though had scripted a steady comeback to international cricket last summer, and averages 47.50 in 16 innings, with just two single-digit scores against his name. Yet, he was the easiest target and if things had not panned out the way they did in the Rainbow Nation, Paine could not even have been in the squad to UAE.
Yet destiny works in strange little ways. In a gasp, the gloveman stands at the cusp of history if he manages to win the second Test and even if a triumph deserts him, his outlook towards sports – the un-Australian outlook towards sports, rather – will forever be celebrated.