As Tim Paine walked into the media conference room in Ranchi, it seemed like it was 2010 all over again. With a remarkably fresh face that seemed immune to the passage of time, he flashed a smile that resonated of the satisfaction of success. After all, it was in India that Paine, 32, completed a fairly successful Test sojourn almost seven years to the day, with 183 runs from two Tests, including two half-centuries, at an average of nearly 46.
As it has turned out, Paine hasn't played another Test after the Bengaluru game in 2010. In the ensuing period, he injured his right index finger, underwent seven surgeries and spent six years out of the national set-up, eventually losing his place in the Tasmania side. Retirement loomed and a career with Kookaburra awaited him, but things turned around and how.
Paine's prolific run with the bat for the Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash League - he is eighth on the all-time run charts in the league - earned him a return to the Australia side, albeit a second-string one that played a three-match T20I series against Sri Lanka in February. For a man who counted his blessings for having represented Australia in as many games as he did, this was an unexpected break.
"I had the opportunity to stay with Tasmania for another couple of years and ever since I've been picked to play in the T20Is in Sri Lanka and got another opportunity here. It's turned around quickly and I'm grateful for that," Paine said on the eve of the first T20I against India in Ranchi. "For me to sit back and be bitter about what happened would be pretty silly. It would be easy to do that. Even before getting back into the T20I side, I'm really proud of what I've achieved. I've played some Tests for Australia, I've played 30  ODIs. I don't look at 'what might have been', I'm happy with what's happened so far and hopeful that it'll continue for another few years."
Paine, however, was realistic about the futility of setting long-term goals given where his career was at the moment. "First and foremost, it's to do well tomorrow night. I know it's a bit of a cliché but someone my age and my position, it'd be foolish to look too far ahead," he said. "I just have to keep reminding myself that I want to do well tomorrow night, do well in a new series, and then when I head home to Australia I hope to start the Shield season and the JLT Cup really well."
Paine was slotted in at No.7 and 8 during the Sri Lanka series, and as a result faced only six balls across three games. He was aware, though, his role wouldn't be dissimilar against India and that he had to find ways to overcome his limitations. Paine went about doing that by taking first strike at the Australia nets, and faced a number of throwdowns. With power-hitting not being his strong point, Paine repeatedly attempted ramps and scoops, while venturing the occasional hoick against the likes of Glenn Maxwell.
"It is [difficult to bat down the order for a top-order bat]," he conceded. "But, at the end of the day, it is batting isn't it? In 20-20 cricket, you get six overs where the field is up then there's five [fielders] out. I've batted a majority of time in 20-20 cricket is five out, albeit I might be [on] 20 or 30 beforehand. But I'm looking forward to it. It's something different and again it's another way that I can improve my cricket."
Paine's stronger suit is wicket-keeping and he wasn't coy talking it up. As if to reiterate his point, he frequently dived to both sides to gather some fine catches at training. Given Matthew Wade's struggles and the flux around Australia's keeping department, Paine was aware some good performances would keep him in the conversation.
"I think I'm one of the best wicketkeepers in Australia. I've always said that and I've always felt that," he said. "The area that has probably let me down in the last two-three years has been my batting. So I feel that at the moment, I'm keeping as well as I ever have. I just need to put some runs on the board. As we've seen in the last few days, if you start well in Australia and have a good series here, there are some huge opportunities around Australian cricket."
Having recently become a father, Paine admitted to not having found enough time to watch the ODI series in entirety. It might not necessarily be a bad thing, as he wouldn't have registered the scars of the 4-1 defeat as much as the personnel who played in the series. "Now that I've had my first child, so I've had my hands full sort of from 6 o' clock onwards at home, so I've only been able to see the highlights," he said. "Obviously India have been playing some really, really good cricket. They're high on confidence so we've got to come out firing tomorrow night."