Why Tim Paine is the captain we had to have
BACK in the late 1970s I was watching a Davis Cup tie on TV with a mate and his father.
The father, a long-time tennis aficionado, wasn't too impressed with the standard of the Australian players of the day and didn't hold back in letting his opinion be known.
And then the camera panned to Tony Roche sitting in the grandstand.
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"Oh look," he said, his voice suddenly gentle and full of man-love. "There's Rochey."
I know the feeling. Whenever Allan Border was doing his commentary on Fox during the first Test from the Gabba I'd feel a warm glow.
"Oh look," I'd think. "There's AB."
Allan Border was "my" Australian captain and always will be, just like cricket fans of other eras will always consider Mark Taylor or Steve Waugh or Ricky Ponting "their" captain.
I found myself thinking about this on Sunday morning when AB was on screen doing his pre-play pitch report.
If Allan Border was my captain (and I've had spirited debate with others of my age who have just as passionately put a lifetime (c) next to Ian Chappell's name), who are today's young cricket followers going to think of as their captain as they go through life?
Even though he was a heck of a batsman in his prime I can't help thinking that Michael Clarke never really won over the nation like the others that I've mentioned.
As for Steve Smith, we'll never know where he could have ended up in the pantheon of Australian captains because he shot himself in the foot before he even got started.
Which brings us to Tim Paine. It's pretty obvious that he will never be a run machine like Ponting or Taylor, a maverick like Chappelli or a folk hero like Waugh.
But he is already proving himself to be the captain we had to have. Solid, competent without being spectacular, but committed to doing his absolute best.
Like AB, Paine never asked to be made Australian captain. The job was forced upon him in the most unforeseen of circumstances.
In Border's case it came in the middle of a series against the West Indies when a shell-shocked Kim Hughes resigned in tears. He reluctantly took over a team in turmoil and through sheer strength of character turned them into the best in the world.
Likewise, Paine couldn't have been handed the reins at a worse time with Smith, his vice-captain David Warner and rookie batsman Cameron Bancroft sacked in disgrace.
Rarely has Australian cricket been at a lower ebb. It would take a rare individual to be able to lead them out of the darkness.
On Sunday we saw that the mettle of that individual in action. It was late in the match when, with Pakistan reeling at 7-306, Paine was struck on the finger diving for a wide.
It was the same finger he had hurt earlier in the innings.
"Paine is taking a battering," said commentator Michael Vaughan in classic understatement.
Two balls later Yasir Shah top-edged a Josh Hazlewood delivery over Paine's head. The keeper-captain turned and gave chase.
He really didn't have to. The Test was all but won and Steve Smith and Joe Burns were already in pursuit but Paine hampered by his pads and his hand still throbbing, outran them, dived, scooped the ball back to Smith, and saved two runs.
Two ultimately meaningless runs that spoke volumes of the kind of captain that Australia now has.
The kind of whom middle-aged men might gaze at on a TV screen in 20 or 30 years time and say with warm affection, "Oh look, there's Painey."