Tim Paine's A Great Guy, But That Doesn't Mean You Can't Bag Him
When the Aussie captain went over to a gutted Nathan Lyon immediately after Ben Stokes hit the winning runs in the Headingley Ashes Test, that was pure class.
When Tim Paine later defended Lyon in the post-match press conference, urging everyone to get around the spinner who had blown an easy run-out opportunity to win the match, that was absolute quality.
Paine is the sort of bloke you'd want as a brother, a mate, a teammate.
But does that mean he should be immune to criticism after a heartbreaking defeat which should never have happened?
The question answers itself.
The ascent of Tim Paine to the Australian cricket captaincy is one of the best Cinderella stories in Australian sport in years. After the disgrace of ball-tampering, we needed someone thoroughly decent and likeable to take over from the banned Steve Smith. And there he was, Timothy David Paine of Tasmania, struggling to get a game for his state, yet suddenly thrust into the national team as captain.
They say that captaining the Aussie men's team is as important a job as the Prime Minister's -- and no doubt PM Scott Morrison could well relate to being an adequate performer but no superstar, who due to a combination of shifting deckchairs found himself on the throne.
But the job of Paine was different from that of his captaincy predecessors.
Their job, in the culture implicitly set by Cricket Australia, was to win at all costs. Paine's job was not conquering but reconstruction. And that job would be done not just with the physical weapons of bat and ball, but with tone.
That's not to suggest Paine was a public relations puppet. To frame things so coarsely would demean his prowess as a wicket keeper/batsman, and his genuinely personable nature.
But as much as anything, he was given the top job for his straightforward, pleasant nature. Paine has never been Captain Grumpy like Allan Border or Captain Scowly like Ricky Ponting or Captain Mindgames like Steve Waugh. In a word, you'd call him Captain Likeable.
So there we were. About three quarters of the way through the Headingley Test, with England bowled out for 67 and Australia with seemingly enough runs to secure the Ashes urn in England for the first time in 18 years, the script seemed written.
The newer, nicer Australia would triumph. Paine was the symbol of this. This would be an Ashes win for karma. Australia had listened to the critics, post ball-tampering. No longer would we be cricket's bullies. We would be winners on merit. Winners you didn't have to like, but who you wouldn't hate.
But somewhere along the way, the script blew away in a furious gust of wind fanned by one of Ben Stokes' wild swipes. And Paine's captaincy nous seemed to disappear with it.
The 34-year-old missed a chance to keep Nathan Lyon bowling with the old ball after Joe Root was dismissed. Later in the innings, he set overly defensive fields which allowed Ben Stokes to rotate the strike with ease, protecting the vulnerable Jack Leach. And crucially, as he'd done all series, he totally bungled his DRS reviews, which meant when Ben Stokes was out, he was unable to review.
Did Paine choke in the pressure? Probably. Did others on the field suffer similar nerves as they bungled their respective roles? Undoubtedly.
Thanks in large part to Paine, Australia will have a men's cricket team we can all be much prouder of in years to come. But when a crucial Ashes match -- and series -- was there to be won, he got key stuff wrong.
This column is not about tipping hate on Paine for that. It's just to say that he failed at the job of captaining a cricket team in his most important hour. And that's what he is, a cricket captain. Not a public relations figurehead, and not Nathan Lyon's counsellor. He is the captain of a cricket team.
With luck, he will still be that at the end of a series which Australia can and should still win. But he had an off day at Headingley, and it shouldn't be treasonous to say that.