After the surprise selection of James Vince to bat at number 3 for England in the Ashes after a lacklustre first spell in the Test team last summer where he averaged 19.27 in 7 Tests against Sri Lanka and Pakistan as well as a distinctly average County Championship season where he scored 626 runs at an average of 32.95, Australia have sprung their own surprise selections in the recalls of wicket-keeper Tim Paine and batsman Shaun Marsh as well as the decision to replace opener Matt Renshaw with Cameron Bancroft.
When news of the decisions were first leaked Twitter erupted in disbelief, unsure as to how a glove-man like Paine, who is not even considered first choice at his state Tasmania, could be classed as the best the country has to offer. The surprise decision was best summed up by Melbourne based journalist Ethan Meldrum who tweeted that “Australia’s current coach will have scored a more recent Sheffield Shield century than our wicketkeeper.”
As ridiculous a statistic it may be, it is true. Australia’s head coach Darren Lehmann retired from cricket a decade ago in 2007 and scored 167 in his last innings for South Australia. Paine’s last hundred came in October 2006 when he scored 215 for Tasmania it was, incidentally, his only first-class hundred in a career which has spanned 91 games and counting. A solitary century at an average of under 30 is quite frankly shockingly bad.
To be fair to Paine, he was identified at a young age as a long term successor to the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Brad Haddin but there is a reason why, at 32 years of age, Paine is not the established Test regular he was expected to be.
In November 2010, Paine was batting in an Australian Cricketers’ Association All-Stars T20 charity game when Dirk Nannes broke his right index finger with a delivery. This injury caused Paine a multitude of issues over the next few years, being forced to have multiple operations on the injury. The timing was particularly bad for the Tasmanian as 2010 was the year he made his Test debut and was being blooded as his long term replacement.
Paine’s long format career never really recovered from that injury, instead establishing himself more as a white-ball specialist with his good form in the most recent Big Bash League being rewarded with an international recall to play in the recent T20 series’ against Sri Lanka and India.
I am not suggesting for one second that Tim Paine is a terrible cricketer by any means because he isn’t. He has simply had some terrible luck with injuries over the years which have stunted his progress. However, the fact that he is being brought into an Ashes squad with such a bad batting record, while carrying a foot injury, plantar fasciitis, which he revealed he has been dealing with for “a few months” and having spent the last three years behind Jake Doran, Tom Triffit and Matthew Wade in the pecking order as keeper at Tasmania truly illustrates the lack of form amongst the other options Australia had.
Wade was always likely to miss out after only averaging in the 20s with the bat in Tests over the past year and previous incumbent Peter Nevill was dropped because captain Steve Smith wanted a keeper who was more involved vocally on the pitch. “I’ve spoken to Pete; we had a chat and I said I probably just need a little bit more from you, and I need you to drive the boys and get the boys up and about,” said Smith. Both have also been lacking runs in the first two rounds of Sheffield Shield games in the run up to this series, with neither player even coming close to passing 50.
Alex Carey, who broke the all-time record for most dismissals in a Sheffield Shield season last year, was another option behind the stumps but he too is yet to reach 50 with the bat this season and his lack of previous international recognition likely counted against him.
The only other possibility was entrusting the gloves to a part-time keeper such as Cameron Bancroft or Peter Handscomb or discounting runs and simply choosing the best pure glove-man in the country. A title which many believe should go to Nevill and others believe is Carey’s. However, in Trevor Hohns, Greg Chappell, Mark Waugh and Darren Lehmann, Paine has obviously impressed the men who matter and now has a golden opportunity to reestablish his long form career and become the player he was once tipped to be before his dislocated finger. Only time will tell if the left-field selection will prove to be a masterstroke or, as former Australian spinner Stuart MacGill stated on Twitter, a decision made by “morons”.