Australian cricket is becoming accustomed to the tearful mea culpa. A week which began with the dizzying highs of a world title in the Middle East came to a crashing halt in a theatre in Hobart where Tim Paine became the latest Test captain to resign in humiliating circumstances.
Yet again, the flagship team of what administrators brag is Australia’s favourite game finds itself in crisis, just three weeks before the start of the Ashes.
A piece of sandpaper hidden in a player’s strides brought down Paine’s predecessor. This time it was a series of graphic, sexually charged text messages and an image sent to a cricket staffer which ended the reign of the married father of two brought into rebuild the image of the national men’s team after the Cape Town saga.
Beginning with a deep breath, Paine, dressed in a team polo adorned with Cricket Australia’s sponsors, choked back tears as he read a 425-word statement announcing his resignation as captain, 3½ years after his first Test in charge.
He was most emotional when describing the honour of captaining the side – the “greatest privilege of my sporting life” – and the forgiveness of his family.
“I spoke to my wife and family at the time and am enormously grateful for their forgiveness and support,” Paine said. “We thought this incident was behind us and that I could focus entirely on the team, as I have done for the last three or four years.”
It ends a period in which the team had clawed back so much ground in its aim to make Australia proud, and leaves them again with their reputation in tatters.
In three weeks’ time Cricket Australia will be hoping the Australian public dig deep into their pockets to watch its players take part in the game’s most fierce rivalry.
There can be little merriment drawn from England supporters on the other side of the world. Their game has been smeared by a racism scandal which has rocked the sport to its core.
Paine’s resignation will come as a shock to many, but for those within the game his smutty exchange with a former Cricket Tasmania staffer has been widely known.
Cricket Australia’s board addressed the issue in 2018 but, with investigations by Jolimont and Cricket Tasmania clearing Paine of wrongdoing, kept him in the post, commonly referred to as the most important in the country behind the Prime Minister’s.
Many in the game were wondering what had changed to prompt CA to suddenly take a different view on Friday. The Australian Cricketers’ Association, for one, raised that question to CA, though the more pertinent question may be why that view was not held three years ago.
Back then, the game was undergoing a tumultuous root and branch review into the culture of the organisation, one which would end in the resignations of almost every person in a senior position, including chairman David Peever, CEO James Sutherland and head of team performance Pat Howard.
When there was no offer from CA to stand by its man, there was no other option for Paine to take than to fall on his sword for the interests of his family and his team.
“However, I recently became aware that this private text exchange was going to become public,” Paine said. “My actions in 2017 do not meet the standard of an Australian cricket captain or the wider community. I am deeply sorry for the hurt and pain I have caused to my wife, my family and the other party.”
CA chair Richard Freudenstein addressed staff at 3pm. The previous night, he and the board had been discussing the four-year issue which was dragged back to the surface by a News Corp investigation.
“While the board acknowledges an investigation cleared Tim of any breach of the code of conduct regarding this matter some years ago, we respect his decision,” Freudenstein said. “CA does not condone this type of language or behaviour.
“Despite the mistake he made, Tim has been an exceptional leader since his appointment and the board thanks him for his distinguished service. Tim will continue to be available for selection in the Test team through the Ashes summer.”
Paine remains hopeful his Test career will continue without the captain’s blazer, which will almost certainly be passed to cleanskin Pat Cummins.
His fate as a player now rests with close friend and head selector George Bailey, whose call will decide whether Australia’s 46th male Test captain gets a chance for redemption on the field.
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