Australia’s captain Tim Paine has no intention of resigning, even after giving a frank and unflattering assessment of how his team found themselves beaten by an injury-ravaged India side in the battle for the Border Gavaskar Trophy, capped with the first victory by a visiting team at the Gabba since 1988.
At 36, Paine said he was looking ahead to the forthcoming tour of South Africa and a bid to qualify for the final of the World Test Championship, but would not guarantee his tenure beyond that to next summer’s home Ashes series.
Clearly rocked by consecutive day fives in which he was unable to marshal a strong bowling attack to deliver victory over Ajinkya Rahane’s preternaturally resilient tourists, Paine said India had in truth won the majority of the key moments across all four Tests, cancelled out only by one crazy hour in Adelaide where they had been razed for 36.
“Even if you went right back to Adelaide, if it was with bat, ball or field, every time we had a chance to go ahead of the game we let it slip,” Paine said. “It happened a little bit in Sydney with our fielding, and then yesterday a bit with our batting, we continually lost wickets when we were trying to put the foot down and couldn’t quite get a partnership together. I thought every time India needed to do that or needed a wicket, someone managed to do it for them. I think they won the key moments.
“I just said then to JL [coach Justin Langer], we turned up in Sydney on day five and the Gabba on day five in as good a position as you would want to be in I reckon, and couldn’t get the job done, so there’s some things that we should’ve and could’ve done better, but at the same time I thought India, their batting group were amazing on both those day fives.”
Asked whether Australia had been too determined simply to stick to their simple and trusted methods for bullying opponents with pace bowling and fast scoring in Australian conditions, as opposed to the more considered and fit-for-purpose approaches tried in recent away series in India and England, Paine wondered whether the pitches had aided his men as much as usual.
“Everyone’s got a great plan for opposition, but India just managed to play better than us,” he said. “They managed to get through our plans for longer than we managed to get through theirs, particularly in the key moments.
“I’m not sure whether [it was] the wickets with the lack of cricket they’ve had, but certainly Sydney didn’t do as much as we thought it would do on day five. Even today I thought that wicket was really going to open up and there’d be cracks everywhere and balls would be flying, but it didn’t happen as much as we thought it would. But India’s batters turned up and wore it on the body and toughed it out and kept soldiering on and then took the game away from us late.
“They [India] guys came in and played their roles and that’s what you expect of anyone. Whether they’re big name players or not, I think they showed they’ve got some real depth and skill. They outplayed us, I don’t think we took them lightly or thought we were going to roll them over. They’re a very proud cricket country and they’ve got a huge population and a lot of skilful players to pick from and they played bloody well. They toughed it out, they were disciplined, and the guys who came in played a role.”
As for questions about whether Australia might have considered looking more deeply into their bowling squad, Paine said that Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon had earned the right to expect inclusion whenever they are fit to play.
“Those four bowlers were ready to go, no doubt about that. Certainly they and I won’t be using that as an excuse,” he said. “This isn’t the first time they’ve played a four-Test series…we’re lucky we’ve got such durable fast bowlers. Had we held our catches in Sydney they wouldn’t have had to bowl the overs they did have. I thought they did a tremendous job throughout the whole series, they created chances, I think we could’ve scored more runs and given them more scoreboard pressure at times.
“Those guys are a credit to themselves and our team, and we’ll play them as long as they say they’re fit to go and they said they were and we backed them in.”
Looking ahead, Paine was adamant he had not thought about giving up the captaincy or his place in the side. “No, not at the moment to be honest,” Paine said. “I came here today to try to win a Test match, still looking forward to going to South Africa, a big series there, we’ve had a goal to make this Test Championship final, I think that’s still achievable, so it’s a big focus for us and for me and this group.
“As a sportsman you have more bad days than good days. Batting and wicketkeeping are pretty similar like that. It doesn’t always go your way in cricket and in life, so for me it’s about soldiering on. I’ve said a few times I still feel like I have improvement in me. I certainly still want to keep leading this team. We’ve got some unfinished business we set out to achieve as a group, so I intend to finish that.”
In ruling out consideration of the Ashes, Paine maintained he was simply sticking to the method of keeping focused on his next match and series as he had done ever since his surprise recall in 2017. “I’ve said many times that I don’t look past the next series,” he said. “I’m 36 years old, I’m loving doing my job, it’s a difficult job and at times like this it can be bloody hard work when you’re copping it left, right and centre. But that’s what I signed up for, I didn’t play my best cricket at times in this series, but that can happen.
“I don’t sit at home and think I’ve done a brilliant job I get home every day, I’m very honest with myself, I know when I make mistakes, and I try to get better. This has certainly been slightly different for me with lots of criticism my way and in the past it probably hasn’t come my way, but that’s par for the course. International cricket is a big boy business and you’ve got to have very thick skin.”
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig