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Tim Paine can’t take a hint. In fact, he can’t take repeated hints over the course of several years.
Three summers ago, when Paine was 29, Tasmania looked to the future by choosing the Western Australian import Tom Triffitt as wicketkeeper instead of Paine. Last season, it was the teenage Jake Doran – another import – who took the gloves. And this year, Matthew Wade returned from a decade with Victoria and settled in behind the stumps himself.
So where does that leave Paine? In a plot-twist worthy of The Usual Suspects, it leaves him about to keep wicket for Australia in an Ashes series, seven years after he last wore the baggy green. As head-scratching selections go, this is one of the scratchiest, for Paine has been gloveman in just three Shield games in the past two years and has not scored a first-class hundred since 2006. But there are mitigating circumstances.
“It was widely recognised last year in Tasmania that I was the best wicketkeeper in Tasmania,” Paine said in Brisbane on Monday, “it was just that at the time Tasmania had a fair share of battles in Shield cricket and decided to go in a new direction that was clearly a younger direction, so that was just how it panned out.”
And the lack of big runs? One contributing factor was the smashed finger that he suffered while batting against Dirk Nannes in an exhibition match in 2010. Rod Marsh was Iron Gloves, but surely no Australian wicketkeeper has had as much metal to contend with as Tim Paine, who now has a plate and seven or eight pins as permanent features of his right hand, repairing the index finger that caused him such trouble after the Nannes blow.
“Behind the stumps I was pretty good straight away, it didn’t worry me too much. It hurt a little bit but it didn’t take too much away from me,” Paine said. “But with batting, it really did affect me and you only have to look at my numbers in those few years when I came back. I was battling mentally, I was out there thinking I was going to get hit and if I did get hit I’d never play again. It certainly rattled me a lot.”
It was not until he opened up with Tasmania’s sports psychologist, Emma Harris, that Paine was able to move past his batting troubles. And now, a couple of years down the track, he has also found an ally in the new Tasmania batting coach Jeff Vaughan, who has helped Paine rework his batting grip to better suit his pins and plate.
“The opportunity has come at a really good time for me,” Paine said. “The past five or six months I’ve really started to bat well again and I’ll go into this Test with some confidence. I played pretty well last week [against England in a tour game], I’ve played Test cricket before so I know what to expect. And I’ve had some success in the few Tests I have played, so I’ll take some confidence from that.”
Australia have played 78 Tests since Paine last wore the baggy green, meaning that on Thursday he will equal the Australian record for the most Tests missed between appearances: Brad Hogg also sat out of 78 Tests from his 1996 debut until he returned to the side in 2003.
And while Paine admits he was surprised by his recall, he is keen to grab his chance. He turns 33 next month, and if he performs strongly during this Ashes campaign, he could feasibly have several years ahead of him as a Test keeper. Finally, it is a chance for Paine to live up to the high expectations that were placed on him seven years ago.
“I’m not here for five minutes, I’m here to make the most of this opportunity,” he said. “To be honest, I’m sick of talking about being the person who hurt his finger and what could have been six or seven years ago. That’s the way I’m looking at this opportunity.
“Hopefully I can be sitting in a room like this in two years or three years and we’re talking about the back end of my Test career, not ‘Geez, he could have been a good player back in 2009’. That’s something that’s really exciting for me, is to be able to re-write my story a bit and it’s something I’m really keen to do.”
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo @brydoncoverdale
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo