Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig
When Tim Paine last led Australia onto the field for a Test, in Johannesburg, they weren't so much a team as a crater where one had once stood.
Shocked and then divided by the Newlands ball tampering scandal, they were mortified to find out a tearful Darren Lehmann was resigning as coach amid the mess. Some players, like Matt Renshaw, were running on Red Bull fumes, having been flown in at the last moment. They were exhausted, mentally and physically after an Ashes winning summer had unravelled in South Africa, against an opponent showing greater expertise not only in how to bat against a reverse swinging ball but also how to bowl it.
Prior to that Test, Paine's first official fixture as full-time captain, the Wanderers had reverberated with a playlist of songs at high volume - Australian staples like How to Make Gravy by Paul Kelly, Into My Arms by Nick Cave, Reckless by Australian Crawl, Don't Dream It's Over by Crowded House and Wide Open Road by The Triffids. If the songs were familiar, the experience of them at training was foreign, and what transpired over the next few days demonstrated that classic tunes were of minimal help to a team swimming in confusion, grief and anger.
"That was a unique set of circumstances, that was something that no-one was prepared for or ready for," Paine said when asked how far removed Johannesburg felt from Dubai. "So it's exciting we're back concentrating on just cricket."
Ahead of the first Test against Pakistan, the only sounds at Australia's training were very familiar: the cracks of bat on ball, the plop of catches into soft hands and the hum of expectant conversation amongst a team that features three debutants: Aaron Finch, Marnus Labuschagne and Travis Head. They have a new coach in Justin Langer, and a new approach forged out of the Newlands fallout, the requirements of Asian conditions and leadership blueprints provided as much out of the AFL as anything in cricket.
This is true of Langer's restless and ever-searching approach, picking and choosing ideas from the minds of many, as if a bower bird rather than the Kookaburra that once emblazoned his bats. It is also true of the leadership model signed off by the Cricket Australia Board, with Paine supported by dual vice-captains in Mitchell Marsh and Josh Hazlewood (absent) on the premise that neither will seek to tunnel under their leader to make their own claim to the captaincy.
And it is true of Paine's primary influences as a football-loving Tasmanian, who views the captain less as the all-powerful figure than as the man tasked with building unity behind a shared plan. It is notable, too, that on a recent study tour of the United States, Paine and Langer visited several sporting organisations, including the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Cubs, where there is no single on-field captain. All players are expected to lead when needed.
"My leadership style is, I suppose I'm more inclusive than other cricket captains have been in the past," Paine said. "I've come from a footy background, so I'm a big believer in the power of the team and certainly take the value and opinions of my teammates really seriously. We're all involved to some point in the decisions that are made and I think that's really important when you're trying to get buy-in and trying to get guys to play for you, I think they've got to be part of that process. That's the way I go about it.
"Particularly going back over a longer period of time, the cricket team was seen as the captain's team. I'm not a huge believer in that, I think the team is everyone's team and I'm the fortunate one who gets to lead it from the front. Yes, a lot of the decisions, most of the decisions fall back on me, which is fine, and I'm happy to do that, but I also believe when you want people to follow you, you've got to get their input and make them feel a part of the decision-making."
As an eloquent spokesman for the team in crisis, Paine has in many ways met his moment after nearly eight years on the fringe, beset by multiple finger fractures and then the crisis of batting confidence that followed it.
His life experience at the very edge of a playing career - so much so he nearly quit the game in 2017 to take another job - has helped to inform the approach he took to the crisis of South Africa. He'll now carry the start of a rebuild operation, of performance and public trust, that will take in this series, home assignments against India and Sri Lanka and then, beyond next year's 50-over World Cup, an Ashes tour of England.
"There's no doubt this Test series is about winning. We're playing international sport, so it's the highest level and I think players will be judged on how many games we've won," Paine said. "That's certainly really important, but on the flipside of that, the image of Australian cricket is also really important to me and Justin and the rest of our team, so we're going to be going about things in a really professional, really respectful manner and we'll continue to do that for the foreseeable future.
"There's been a lot of talk over the last four or five months and it's great now that we're on a new tour, we've got a new group, so it hasn't been something that's come up a hell of a lot, the guys are really excited by the challenge that's been presented over here. Australian teams haven't had a heap of success over here, so it's a really exciting challenge for this group, it's a group that a lot of people haven't given a huge chance to and that's something that's driving us and something that excites us."
There was a reassuring quality to a lot of Paine's match eve questions. Sample this: Why did Peter Siddle get the nod ahead of Michael Neser? "We just think Sidds has been playing quite a bit of cricket, he's in good form, and we knew he was bowling really well in the lead up." Did Matt Renshaw miss out for Labuschagne because he had not played enough cricket due to a recent hamstring strain then last week's concussion? "He hasn't had enough cricket, so the decision was made there to go with Marnus. He's had a bit of an unlucky run, Renners, with injury, he missed a game in India and then got hit on the head, couldn't bat in the last game.
"We're certainly picking a team that we think can win over here in these conditions and there was obviously a lot of discussion about it. But we think Marnus brings a lot to the group, he's a really good player of spin and we think as well his leg spin will be something we can throw at the Pakistanis, they might not expect him, and they've really improved in the last 12 months."
Can opening bring the best out of Usman Khawaja? "Ussy has opened a little bit through his career, he opened last week for us in the tour game and right at the moment he's in a really good spot, he's batting really well so I don't think it would matter to Usman where he's batting at the moment, he's in really good touch and I think he'll have a great tour."
As for the difference made by Langer's arrival, Paine spoke in terms of a partnership that would unsettle some traditionalists, but that is now vital to Australia returning to a higher standing in the game as well as the ICC's Test match rankings.
"JL and I have known each other and had a good relationship for a long time, so a lot of our thoughts are very similar," Paine said. "We're certainly not exactly the same, no two people are, but we're happy to challenge each other when we need to and we have a really open and honest relationship, so it's been fantastic to be working with him so far and we've gelled together really well and so has this whole squad."
One part of the effort to rehabilitate has the Australian team being documented by filmmakers on the journey from Langer's appointment, through the home summer and into the World Cup and the Ashes next year. Those songs that rang in Paine's ears at the Wanderers, in the midst of unprecedented chaos for the national team, would play best on the soundtrack to the Test team's redemption tale. Dubai and Pakistan, all hot days and dry decks, is where that begins.
And for all the improvement in the team's mindset relative to the Wanderers, a fundamental question remains - how good can Paine's side really be?