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Tim Paine contemplates last wave of summer

Unfazed by the speculation about his future, Paine gears up for possibly his last home summer as captain

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
Just as the numerous fault lines and hurdles confronting Australia's cricketers in the past 18 months may have tripped up a leader less experienced in life than Tim Paine, so too might the constant speculation about the end date for his captaincy be a source of greater irritation for someone less grounded.
Seldom has a day gone by since the return of Steven Smith from his Newlands ban without Paine, the captaincy and options for the future being discussed publicly in some way. But contrary to any tendency to shy away from it, Paine has been comfortable enough in his own skin to contribute, even suggesting in October that he hopes Smith does return to the captaincy in the future.
It's a level of self-awareness and maturity that can be rare among elite athletes, but all the better to help the Australian side coached by Justin Langer to both plan for the long-term future and goals such as the World Test Championship final in 2021 and a tour of India in 2022, while also not losing sight of the immediate challenge presented by Pakistan and New Zealand this home season. Whether or not these opponents are the last ones to face Paine as a wicketkeeper and captain, he will be doing his best to set the Australians up for a return to global pre-eminence.
"It's a conversation we touched on lightly last night, what is this Test team's goal. This current group," Paine said. "And obviously at the moment, and speaking even really briefly with a lot of the players this morning. Our goal is to get back to that No.1 ranking and we want to win that Test Championship. To do that we're going to have to be good enough to win in India and we're going to have to be good enough to beat everyone, everywhere. It's the only way we're going to get to where we want to get to. It's an exciting period and I'm looking forward to being part of the start of that and there is no end point at the moment.
"It might be [my last summer]. I'm not too sure. I haven't looked at it that way at the moment. But as I've said many a time. I'm enjoying doing it. I feel good physically. I feel good mentally, so while that continues and I'm scoring enough runs and keeping well enough then I'd like to continue. But I know when you get to my age that can change really quickly. I'm not going to look too far ahead. I'm really looking forward to this summer. Beyond that I haven't looked too far."
Looking back to the young man who emerged to play for Australia back in 2010, making his Test debut alongside Smith, Paine reflected that he was not always so relaxed and realistic about the future. "I think years ago it probably would have bothered me, I think years ago it probably would have but now it actually doesn't bother me one bit," he said. "I'm motivated from within. I know what I want to do and what I want to achieve and I think when you're the Australian captain and the Australian keeper, they're two of the most critiqued roles in Australian sport and at the moment I have to hold them both.
"I know I'm going to be in the crosshairs for people all the time but at the same time I also get a lot of ... positive feedback and a lot of people telling me how well I'm doing as well. That's just part of the job at times you're going to get critiqued and you're not going to like it and other times you're going to get praised when you think you've done something that's pretty normal.
"It's just about keeping nice and consistent and nice and level and it certainly doesn't add any extra motivation. I think there's always talk when an Australian captain gets older, there's always talk of who is the next one, when is he going to stop. I think that's natural and that's always going to be the case."
To that end, Paine joined the likes of Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood in taking a decent break between the end of the Ashes and the start of the home summer, a holiday all the more pivotal for the late finish of an absorbing Test match duel with England. Paine was also spelled from one of Tasmania's Sheffield Shield fixtures more recently, allowing him to keep his body and mind as fresh as they need to be for the dual tasks of leadership and glove work.
"I've said I want to play as much Test cricket as I can so it's important for me that I'm really fresh mentally and physically because I know as soon as I hit the Test summer my workload from a cricket sense and an off-field sense goes through the roof," he said. "That was one of the reasons why I missed a game for Tassie was to have a week at home and not because I was feeling tired or had injury concerns, it was me pre-empting what I know is coming up in the next few months and making sure that I can give my best to my game and myself and to my family and my team for this whole summer. So it's always a bit of a balancing act."
There will not necessarily be quite as much shuffling of the Australian side at home as there was in England. In terms of the batting there will be hope that familiar conditions allow the likes of the recalled Joe Burns and Travis Head to find rhythm and runs alongside Smith, David Warner, Matthew Wade and Marnus Labuschagne, and the bowling battery of Cummins, Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon will be more likely to stick together given their long record of success as a balanced and consistently threatening attack down under.
"I think Australian conditions are different. In England our game plan was slightly different to what you see from us in Australia," Paine said. "We want to make sure we've got the balance of bowlers right to be able to do that and I think for the most part we did it well. Even the last Test, Sidds injured himself pretty early on on day one which didn't help him be at his best and we're lucky he's got such a big heart he kept on going for us otherwise we might have been in some real trouble.
"In Australia we know what works, all of our bowlers are probably more comfortable, certainly Starc and guys like that will be more comfortable in home conditions. They've had so much success in Australia and they know what works so that combined with the fact that they haven't played all the Tests in the winter I think is going to be really exciting for us. Having someone like that who is fresh, James Pattinson is going to be really fresh and it's going to allow them to bowl at a high speed and play at a high level for even longer, which is what we want."
At the same time, Paine will also be able to take time to enjoy some of the warmer moments of leading the Test team, such as his long association with Wade: the northern Hobart suburb of Lauderdale has more than pulled its weight in terms of producing Test cricketers. "I do occasionally just sit there and think, it's a great story, no doubt about that - coming from the same street cricket competition," he said. "I think it's amazing achievement really for two guys, kids from Lauderdale to come through the way we have and now be batting at 6 and 7 for Australia in the Test team is pretty special. Something we're both really proud of.
"You have a bit of a laugh at times. We are both extremely proud but I do think sometimes we sit back and think, how did that happen? From where we have come from literally a few hundred metres apart to where we are now is pretty extraordinary. It's good, it's a good story for many kids out there that anything is possible.
"We're no different to millions of kids growing up around Australia playing backyard cricket with their mates, in the backyard and on the street with their brothers and sisters and that's the exact background we've come from and now we're here doing this together. It's a great lesson for everyone out there that if you want something enough then it can happen."
This may well, then, be Paine's last summer as captain. But he has plenty in his life to date to remind him that to spend too much time pondering that fact would be to waste the two eventful months ahead.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig