Paine opens up on mental battle
Australia A 308 for 9 dec (Cowan 73, Paine 59, Hughes 51, Harris 6-102) drew with England Lions240 for 5 (Kieswetter 112*)
Tim Paine's finger is swollen, and studded with the marks of five operations. Maybe it always will be.
Since Paine, the Tasmanian wicketkeeper-batsman, broke his right index finger in the Australian Cricketers' Association "All-Stars" T20 game on November 21 2010, he has had a plate inserted, the finger break again and the plates come loose. There have been five operations, and for the last two of them bone was taken, first from Paine's wrist, then from his hip, in order to help the finger knit together.
"There's a plate and eight pins in there holding my finger," said Paine, who played four Tests for Australia in 2010. "I still get pain but it's nothing like it used to be. It was always in the way. It hurt when I was putting on a jumper or when I was grabbing a toothbrush or a pen without thinking. I've had plenty of issues with the finger."
All of which leads one to think that the abandonment of the last day of Australia A's unofficial Test against the England Lions at Edgbaston does not come as too much of a disappointment to Paine, especially coming at the end of a four-match tour in which he has, at last, proved his fitness in a raft of ways including a fluent 59 off 78 balls.
For since Dirk Nannes broke Paine's finger in what some might regard as a "Mickey Mouse" event, the 27-year-old has played just seven List A games, two T20s and half a dozen first-class matches, four of them on the trip which ended in Birmingham this week. He has, to all intents and purposes, missed two full seasons of domestic cricket in Australia. Now he reckons he is back.
"For me the whole idea was to come over here and play," said Paine. "I've had no pressure on me from selectors or coaches. It was just about getting back into playing competitive cricket. I've started my innings pretty well and the last innings here was a huge boost to the confidence.
"I've also got my wicketkeeping back to where it was in a pretty quick period. I got what I wanted from the trip and I can go home with some confidence that I'm back to my best for the start of the Australian summer. I've gained a lot of confidence from the trip and I'm going back in a completely different headspace to the one I was in when I came over here. I had a few doubts because missing two years' cricket is a lot of time."
If there was a moment in which Paine proved both his mental and physical fitness, it came barely half an hour into the first day of the Lions match at Old Trafford. Mitchell Johnson, bowling fast and aggressively, speared a delivery into Joe Root's body which he could only glove down the leg side. Paine dived across and pouched the ball.
"To be taking catches like that where I just see the ball and throw my hand at it is a sign that I'm over any sort of scarring." said Paine. "Things are happening without my thinking about them. I've just spoken with the coaches and we feel that my keeping's back to where it was before I had the injury."
All the same, Paine still needs a guard, which is taped below the second knuckle of the index finger, and his gloves are specially reinforced. This is necessary to protect the new bone and it will have to be in place for a year or so. Then he hopes to remove either the guard or the padding in the gauntlet. Whatever is required Paine has made major progress in dealing with the psychological impact of a major injury.
"There was mental scarring before I came here or attended the Australian Centre of Excellence," said Paine. "I had some bad memories of playing with it or wanting to catch a ball that was coming at 150kph and not being able to do it.
"These last six or seven weeks have been really good in getting that out of my mind. My keeping's gone well and batting-wise I've probably got to the stage when I was just playing cricket for the first time in a long time. Even when I get hit it now, it hurts for a couple of seconds whereas before it would hurt for five or six overs."
And yet the most impressive thing about Paine's long journey back to sporting fitness is that he is now able to put the game of cricket in its proper perspective as merely a glorious expression of humanity's competitive spirit.
"In a good way cricket's become less important to me," said Paine. "I love playing and I would love to come back to England and win an Ashes Test, but if I don't, I won't be too fussed as long as I've given myself the best chance of doing so. I've learned to take cricket a little less seriously.
"So it's interesting when people say you must be really struggling because you've had two years' out with injury. I had a broken finger and in the whole scheme of things it's not that big a deal. I've a long time left in the game and everything else in my body makes me feel like I'm 21.
"I can sit around and feel sorry for myself, but ultimately, I had a broken finger, not a broken back."