Tim Paine gears for Lord's audition
Talented Australian wicketkeepers can spend a lifetime waiting for a shot at Test cricket. For some, like Brad Haddin and Graham Manou, it has come only after a 30th birthday; for others like Wade Seccombe and Darren Berry, it never arrives. So, when Tim Paine, 25, sets foot on Lord's for his debut next Tuesday as the youngest Australian Test gloveman since Ian Healy, he will appreciate his good fortune.
Haddin's elbow injury has given Paine two Tests to cement his place as the country's No. 2 behind the stumps. Competition is strong - Manou played Test cricket a year ago, Matthew Wade has grabbed his chances with Australia A, Luke Ronchi will continue to push for selection and Chris Hartley is a perennially accomplished gloveman - and Paine knows this is his window of opportunity.
"I'm absolutely thrilled to be given the opportunity to play Test cricket," Paine said. "It's a pretty rare thing for a wicketkeeper. I realise I'm very fortunate, to get it before you normally would. It's definitely a bit of an audition, if you can perform well in these two Tests, it puts me clearly as number two going down the track and if anything happens to Brad or he's rested or when he retires, performing well in these Tests will hold me in good stead."
But there are challenges. If he drops a few catches, or looks out of his depth, he could be overtaken next time Haddin is absent. Haddin didn't find Lord's an easy place to keep wicket during last year's second Ashes Test, when he let through 31 byes, and the famous slope of the venue is hard to get used to.
Then there's the red Duke ball, which behaves slightly differently to the Kookaburra Paine is accustomed to at home. Until the tour match in Derby, Paine had never before kept to the red Duke and he dropped Chris Rogers down leg side, although shortly afterwards he pouched a catch and felt much better for it.
"To have my first catch with the Duke ball was good," Paine said. "To get that away and not cop one on the end of my fingers was good. It's a slightly different ball. It feels a little bit heavier when you catch it, but apart from that, a red ball's a red ball.
"I've spoken to Tim Nielsen about it [the ball and the Lord's slope] and I'm trying not to read too much into it. I know if I'm watching the ball and am nice and relaxed, if it does swing or dip, I'll catch the ball no matter what it does. I've enjoyed keeping at Lord's with the slope in one-day cricket."
It is in ODIs that Paine initially made his mark at international level. Last year, he was given several chances and thrived in the format, making his maiden century at Trent Bridge. During this year's one-dayers in England he has been less fluent opening the innings, although his results have been far from terrible, with 54 at Lord's and 44 at Old Trafford.
The rate of his scoring was the main concern during the limited-overs games, and he believes his slower batting style will be better suited to Test cricket. In the tour match, he finished unbeaten on 52, and it was a valuable innings for his confidence.
"I was trying to keep it nice and straight and keeping it simple," he said. "I felt I was batting reasonably well through the one-day series, it was just the forced pressure to score quickly was what was getting me out at times. In Test cricket you haven't got any of that, so my batting is in a good place and I'm looking forward to trying to bat for a very long time."
Perhaps the most pleasing aspect for Paine ahead of his Test debut, from a personal perspective, will be the presence of his grandmother Elizabeth Shaw, who is in her eighties. She has watched Paine's career closely from the sidelines and to have her in the stands at Lord's alongside his parents will make his debut all the more memorable.
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo