Centurion Paine slots in seamlessly
If further proof were needed that Tim Paine was evolving into a legitimate Australian cricketer, it came when he was asked whether he harboured any sympathy for Andrew Strauss's downtrodden Englishmen. "Not at all from me," he said, with just a hint of sadistic delight. Glenn McGrath and co. may have gone from Australian cricket, but the schadenfreude lives on in a new generation.
Paine, more than anyone else, contributed to England's sense of misery on Thursday. His patient and precise 111 turned the match firmly Australia's way in the first innings, and his catch off Strauss from the second ball of England's run-chase effectively crushed any notion of a home team fightback.
At 24, Paine has already attained a level of maturity and hunger that has eluded far more seasoned English batsmen. Watchful in the face of James Anderson's testing opening spell, Paine steadily lifted the tempo during the first Powerplay period, and again after he reached his half-century. His ability to convert a start into a match-winning century in just his third week as an international cricketer earned the envy of Strauss, who has watched forlornly as his team-mates have thrown away many an opportunity to fill their boots this series.
"He played very well," Strauss said. "He's playing in a confident side, which helps. It's easy to come into a side that's full of confidence and winning and show your true calibre. I think it's a bit harder when the side is low on confidence. All credit to him. He's taken his opportunity and he batted very well today. I think our batting unit realise that we need to get big scores and we haven't done that. With each game that passes the pressure on someone to stand up grows."
Paine doesn't possess the lusty, pendulum-like swinging of Adam Gilchrist at the crease, nor the compact power of Brad Haddin. His is a more classical mode of batting - compiling for the most part, attacking when the situation presents itself and always placing a high price on his wicket.
Once, not so long ago, comparisons with Australia's last two senior wicketkeepers would have eaten at Paine, but no longer. "That's something I've learned being in the change-rooms with these blokes, that everyone plays differently and the best way for you to play is the way you play and not trying to copy anyone else," he said. "That's something I've done for the last 12 months. I probably had a period there where I'd try to hit the ball over the top and do all that sort of stuff but that's not the way I play and I'll just keep hammering away as I am."
Just where Paine will fit into the national set-up upon Haddin's return is unclear at present. Graham Manou's commendable glovework for Australia in the Edgbaston Test would suggest he remains Haddin's understudy at Test level, but Paine's age and batting skills make for a compelling case. His lightness of feet and sure hands behind the stumps are also noteworthy. Surely, more international cricket is to come.
Should he continue his current vein of batting form - he is currently the tournament's second leading run-scorer with 233 at 38.83 - Paine might well follow the path once trodden by Gilchrist and Haddin in representing the Australian one-day team as a specialist batsman. But that is for another day. For now, Australia's newest international cricketer is content filling in for Haddin and pushing his team-ever closer to the 7-0 whitewash over England they so desperately seek.
"I'm willing to consider it, but whether or not it happens, I've got to keep scoring runs and keeping well and when Brad comes back we'll wait and see then," he said. "It's very important, just to make the most of it. I've got a short opportunity here while Brad's away and he's the best wicketkeeper-batsman in Australia so he's going to come back. I guess I was in a bit of a positive situation, I couldn't really lose, so I'm just trying to enjoy my time until he comes back and still trying to do my role in the team."
Alex Brown is deputy editor of Cricinfo