Paine set for captaincy test
Tim Paine is ready to take his next step towards being a potential Australia captain when he leads the Prime Minister's XI against England in Canberra on Monday. Paine has already been named vice-captain for the Twenty20 squad next week and is being touted as a contender to guide a new generation of Australian cricket after their Ashes drubbing.
Michael Clarke remains likely to have a run at the top job once Ricky Ponting leaves - either by his choice or the selectors' - having taken the reins for the final Ashes Test at the SCG when Ponting was injured. However, Paine, 26, is being earmarked for the honour after making a positive start to his international career at Test and one-day level.
He has endured an injury-hit season after breaking his finger in the All Stars Twenty20 match at the Gabba in November. Andrew Hilditch, the chairman of selectors, said he was keen to assess Paine's captaincy but the man himself isn't getting carried away.
"I think it probably is a bit of an audition, but as I've said in the past couple of days that's probably a long way away for me at the moment," Paine said. "I'm just purely concentrating on the next few weeks, getting back into cricket and whatever happens down the track happens. But if I can get myself into a position to play enough cricket for Australia even to be considered for that job then that would be fantastic, but as I said that's a long way off."
Paine's first challenge will be to secure a position across all formats for Australia, which means either getting past Brad Haddin or playing alongside him. Haddin has been left out of the Twenty20 team, but was one of Australia's few successes in the Ashes with 360 runs at 45 so his Test future is secure. However, the one-day squad to face England will be named next week and the choice of wicketkeeper will give another indication into the future of Australian cricket.
One suggestion has been that Paine plays as a specialist batsman even though he only averages 31.03 in first-class cricket. But a Test-best 92 against India showed his potential and Paine suggested it would be a role he'd be open to if it meant a place in the Test line-up.
"If that happened then I think I probably could [handle it]. I think I showed that in India. I think my batting is up to Test level at some stage, whether that's now or in the near future I'm not too sure," he said. "Brad's still the number one keeper in all formats. He's just come off a good Ashes series himself. Any role I can get to play in the Australian team I'll grab with both hands."
Australia have not won a series in any format since the New Zealand tour last March, with their World Twenty20 final the high point, and the time has come where a number of youngsters, like Paine, could be given their chance to help rebuild the side.
"It's very important for a lot of people in Australian cricket with what's just happened. There's obviously going to be some opportunities coming up," Paine said. "It's up to me to prepare myself as well as I possibly can and if I'm lucky enough to be in that 15 for the World Cup, or something happens to Brad, or if I can play in a role as a batsman then I've got to be ready to grab it."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo