The fifth Ashes Test got underway in Hobart on Friday afternoon, but proud Tasmanian Tim Paine was not at the venue.
The absence of Tim Paine at Hobart’s first Ashes was sorely felt by Cricket Tasmania, with chief executive Dominic Baker detailing the former Australian captain’s “bitterness” during what should have been a momentous occasion.
Due to Western Australia’s strict travel protocols, Cricket Australia moved the fifth Ashes Test to the Tasmanian capital, giving the island state its first international pink-ball match.
The marquee fixture got underway at Blundstone Arena on Friday afternoon, but proud Tasmanian and former Australian wicketkeeper Tim Paine was not at the venue, opting instead to go on a Gold Coast holiday with his young family.
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Paine, who never played Test cricket in Hobart, stepped away from the sport earlier this summer to focus on his mental health after explicit messages with a Cricket Tasmania staff member from November 2017 were exposed.
Entering the twilight of his professional career, most cricket pundits assumed the 2021/22 summer would be Paine’s last in the national set-up. A day-night Ashes Test at his home ground would have been the perfect send-off for the 37-year-old, who was the poster boy of Australian cricket following the infamous ball-tampering saga of 2018.
Speaking ahead of day one in Hobart, Baker revealed he had been in regular contact with Paine, who has not played professional cricket since April last year.
“We feel (Paine’s absence) as an organisation, I feel it personally,” he told SEN.
“Tim and I are quite close, we spoke this morning. He’s up on the Gold Coast enjoying some fantastic time with his family, which is all part of him looking after his and his family’s health and wellbeing.
“As sad as we’ll be about him not being there, the saddest person will be Tim.
“I didn’t know whether or not it was a good idea him being in Tasmania for the Test match, but I think probably in hindsight it was the best thing.
“Tim didn’t want this to be about Tim Paine not playing. He wanted this to be about Tasmania celebrating an Ashes Test match, and Australia hopefully getting a convincing victory.
“I did have a chat to him this morning, and there was that little bit of bitterness in the voice from him around, ‘I’d love to be there,’ but at the same time wishing us all the best, as we wish him all the best.”
Baker also said Cricket Tasmania was eager for the gloveman to make his return to the state’s Sheffield Shield side later this summer.
“We’re working with Tim on his return to cricket, and that’s still very much up in the air whether he returns to play with the Tigers side,” he explained.
“We’re really well-positioned in the Shield – we’re third at the moment, just separated by percentage. We’re right up there in the one-day cup as well.
“We would love nothing better than to have the best wicketkeeper in the country behind the stumps, but that’s got to be up to him.
“It would be fair to say at the moment the light’s not on for cricket, and we absolutely respect that.
“Our role now is to put an environment around Tim where Tim feels comfortable and confident enough to introduce himself back to cricket and make a difference to cricket. He still has an outstanding opportunity to add such value to the game of cricket in Tasmania.
“He for all intents and purposes is our flag bearer … he’s got our 120 per cent support.”
Baker also revealed Paine was snuck into a Big Bash League fixture at Blundstone Arena earlier in the season.
“He sat up in the Chairman’s Room,” he said. “He was a bit nervous to be honest to be back at the cricket, but he was embraced by everybody.
“I think he walked away going, ‘Actually, life’s going to be ok.’”
Paine was the country’s most reliable wicketkeeper, and with the exception of last summer’s New Year’s Test against India, mistakes were few and far between.
Much like goalkeeping in football, a talented wicketkeeper sometimes goes unnoticed if they’re doing a solid job behind the stumps.
However, the Tasmanian veteran repeatedly copped criticism for his batting, having not scored a century in 35 Tests – but his average of 32.63 was more than handy. Adam Gilchrist and Brad Haddin are the only Australian glovemen in Test history to score more runs at a batter average than Paine.
South Australia’s Alex Carey replaced Paine ahead of the Ashes series, and the 30-year-old pouched eight chances in the Brisbane Test to break the all-time record for most catches on debut.
But wicketkeeping in Test cricket is no easy task — Carey has since missed several chances behind the stumps while averaging 15.71 with the bat after seven knocks.
Australia was 6/241 at stumps on day one of the Hobart Test, with Carey unbeaten on 10.