It’s the Paine game as Tim’s hold on Test team grows

Tim Paine's captaincy through this series has justified Cricket Australia's faith in him and almost certainly guaranteed he will lead the side at least through next year's Ashes campaign.

After an authoritative second innings with the bat in Adelaide, despite having aggravated his troublesome finger, Paine had impressed in Perth heading into tea on day two.

Evasive: Tim Paine avoids a short ball while batting.Credit:AP

For all of the pre-match chat about the potential value of bowling first on a so-called "green mamba", the Australians were always going to bat first if Paine called correctly. Aaron Finch confirmed that after play on Friday.

Regardless, that this pitch was an unknown in the venue's maiden Test ensured there was some danger in Paine's decision but it was one that was rewarded by his teammates – and through his own batting.

As statistics guru Cric Viz noted: "In 2018, the team who have batted first have won 68 per cent of Tests. Australia have not won any of their last five Tests when they’ve fielded first; they are a team who like to lead the game rather than chase it. They might have been spooked by the pitch but they stayed calm and rightly chose to bat."

That decision was reinforced when the home team resumed its first innings on Saturday and finished all out for 326, with Paine falling for 38 in a patient 89-ball stay.

He may not be an Adam Gilchrist – there may never be another like him – but Paine is quickly showing why he is technically correct batsman who can counter-punch, as he did in Adelaide last summer and last week, and against Pakistan in Dubai in October.

Gilchrist's successor Brad Haddin averaged 32.98 in 66 Tests (four centuries). Matthew Wade averaged 28.58 in 22 Tests (two centuries). Peter Nevill, discarded because he was seen to not offer enough verbal diarrhoea, averaged 22.28 in 17 Tests (no centuries).

Through 16 Tests in two incarnations, Paine is averaging 36.86 – more than anyone since Gilchrist. That average nudges up to 37.46 since his return to the side last summer, and there is no reason not to think a century is within his grasp should the circumstances be presented.

India have done their homework on the Tasmanian but their tactics come with risk. They went after him with the short ball, knowing that while he scores more against that length (3.91 runs per over) than other deliveries he is also dismissed more regularly from that same short ball (every 58 balls).

Paine had the composure to handle this attack well. The delivery that ultimately got him was a swinging delivery from Jasprit Bumrah which squared him up and hit flush on the pads.

However, what he had done to that point was guide his side into a position of strength, and reinforce his hold on this team. As Steve Waugh said to him in Adelaide, it's imperative he look after his own form, with bat and wicketkeeping gloves.

Eschewing the need to regularly portray an intense look on and off the field, the father of two spent Friday night with teammate Peter Siddle at a National Basketball League match between the Perth Wildcats and visiting Sydney Kings, and was presented with a singlet by former NBA star turned King, Andrew Bogut. It highlighted that Paine believes unwinding is as crucial to handling the demands of captaincy as is spending time in the team sheds rehashing a day's play.

The selectors were relieved to not have to consider a replacement after Paine, hurt in Adelaide, guaranteed he would play in Perth. And for good reason, as there are a dearth of leadership options in this rebuilding side.

The suspended Steve Smith can resume playing international cricket from March 29 but he cannot hold a leadership role until March 2020. While some believe he should be able to return to the captaincy from next year, this Australian side is in more than good hands.

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