Tim Paine will make his comeback to state cricket on Friday as part of a plan to best simulate the workload he would encounter in the first Test, in another sign the former captain remains a part of Australia’s Ashes plans.
With wet weather threatening to spoil Australia’s internal practice game in Brisbane next week, the day-night 50-over game between Tasmania and Western Australia may well be Paine’s last competitive match before the battle for the urn starts on December 8.
Last chance … Tim Paine will make his comeback to state cricket on Friday in Tasmania’s one-day game against Western Australia.Credit:Getty
The veteran has had the best part of two days to condition himself to the strain and repetition of a wicketkeeper, but remains short of match practice with the bat. Dismissed second ball for one earlier in the week, Paine completed a double failure by making just seven off 16 deliveries on Thursday for Tasmania’s second XI.
Likely to pad up at No.3 for Tasmania in the Marsh Cup, Paine will get another chance for some much-needed time in the middle to regain confidence and touch on the comeback trail from neck surgery.
While former greats Shane Warne and Mark Waugh have cast doubt over Paine’s Test future, everything is pointing to him playing in the Ashes. He is the only keeper in the squad, and his main rivals are either short of runs or match practice. Alex Carey made two and three this week, taking his tally to 18 from his past five Shield innings while Josh Inglis has played just one T20 game in two months.
State second XI cricket and a domestic one-dayer is a long way from the intensity of a Test but combined it would equal the five-day workload Paine could expect in a Test. If the game situation requires him to keep wickets for the full 50 overs he will have spent 216 overs behind the stumps this week.
“He’s a bit heavy in the legs having had a couple of days in the field, but that was the expectation anyhow,” Tasmania coach Ali de Winter said.
A big six by a teammate this week smashed into Paine’s car, parked some distance from the fence at Hobart’s Lindisfarne Oval, but a dint in the bonnet is a long way removed from the troubles he is confronting after revelations last week of a string of lewd messages and image in 2017 led to him resigning as Test captain.
Apart from being greeted by media daily for his walk from the car to the dressing room, the field is providing a sanctuary of sorts for Paine, who has been told by Tasmania officials to focus on his family and mental health.
“We haven’t had a coaching conversation other than asking him to play tomorrow, which he was absolutely thrilled and excited about,” de Winter said. “His own health through this is first and foremost.
“He’s having some deep challenges. Having good people around him and his cricket mates is the best tonic he can have, outside of his family.
“We’re preparing him to play Test cricket. He needed to play this week from a physical and a cricket point of view. We want him to play tomorrow, we’ll do everything we can to help him prepare for that first Test match.”
State and Test teammates are rallying around Paine, who received a strong endorsement from spinner Nathan Lyon to keep his place in the Australia XI. The relationship between spinner and wicketkeeper is more important than most on the field, and Lyon is adamant Paine is not just the best gloveman in Australia, but the world.
“Everyone will say ‘look at the movement around catching the ball etc’ but I go by the sound of the gloves when he actually catches the ball,” Lyon said.
“If you look at the best keepers in the world and you actually listen to the sound of the ball that goes into the gloves, that’s when you can tell someone’s a decent keeper. And I noticed that with Brad Haddin when I bowled to him a lot. But Tim Paine, it’s music to my ears, put it that way.”
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