Only time will tell how Paine is judged

Tim Paine has had a career defined by two Kookaburra balls eight years apart, but how it will be remembered in years to come remains a mystery.

TIM PAINE.
TIM PAINE. Picture: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Never before has a cricket career been so clearly shaped by two Kookaburra balls.

One, that crashed into Tim Paine's right index finger in a pointless Twenty20 exhibition match in 2010.

And the other which comprised a tiny yellow piece of sandpaper applied to it in South Africa that spun the cricket world out of control.

Paine - Australia's 46th Test captain - now finds his career at not so much a crossroads, but rather at an end.

It's unlikely he will play Test cricket again after taking indefinite leave, making way for the next generation of Alex Carey or Josh Inglis a week after also relinquishing the captaincy.

How history will treat Paine long after the sexting scandal is anyone's guess.

In so many ways he achieved much more than ever could have been imagined five years ago, while at the same time it has been one of the greatest falls from grace in Australian sport in recent memory.

Above all else it's easy to forget it is still a career plagued by that damned aforementioned Kookaburra that cost him any number of Tests.

A teenage prodigy who grew up playing street cricket with Matt Wade, Paine received the youngest rookie contract in Australia's history in 2001.

And in the Tasmanian's Test debut against Pakistan in 2010 alongside Steve Smith, it was Paine, not Smith, who was predicted to play 100 Tests for Australia.

By the time Smith had reached 50 Tests and become the world's best bat, Paine had played just four.

For so long it looked as if his tally would end there, after a crushing blow from paceman Dirk Nannes while playing in an All Star T20 game in late 2010.

It broke his finger in two places, prompting seven operations and costing him two years out of the game at a time when Paine believes he was in his physical and mental prime.

Then came the flow-on effect.

He banished his baggy green to his parent's house in a bid to remove the constant reminder of what he was missing, as he grew frustrated watching others stand behind the stumps.

"I got to the stage where I was scared of getting hit and I just had no idea what I was going to do," Paine told the Bounce Back Podcast in 2020.

"Instead of watching the ball I was thinking about getting hit or what might happen. When you're doing that the game becomes very difficult.

"I couldn't score runs for an extended period of time.

"I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. I was so nervous before games. I was horrible to live with.

"I love training for cricket and I love watching cricket. But when it came to my part in the game I just hated it."

Between that blow from Nannes and mid-2017, Paine not only went without a Test but missed 35 of 68 Sheffield Shield games for Tasmania through selection and injury.

At one stage in 2017, he seriously considered walking away to work for Kookaburra themselves, before a blunt Ricky Ponting message and a new CEO at Cricket Tasmania prompted a change of heart from the state.

Within a year, he was Australia's Test captain - called in from the abyss to play in the 2017-18 Ashes and entrusted to take charge after sandpaper-gate.

"The best way I can explain is even four or five months in, it is genuinely strange for me as well," Paine said in a Howie Games Podcast interview in 2018.

"I'll be driving to training sometimes or driving on a Saturday, and it comes into my head (that I am Australia's Test captain).

"I literally have sat in my car at times and had a bit of a giggle to myself about how strange it is."

It is Paine's rapid rise, and the portrayal of him as Australian cricket's saviour, that makes his fall in the last week even more dramatic.

The current turmoil came before what would have likely been his final series and a chance to go out a winner in a home Ashes.

Paine will forever remain an Australian Test captain, joining an elite group of 17 men to have led the nation in more than 20 matches.

The class which comprises Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting, the Chappell brothers Ian and Greg, Steve Smith and Don Bradman, is a who's who of Australian cricket.

As a wicketkeeper, Paine is one of just 33 men to be a designated stumper for Australia.

His 35 Tests behind the stumps is the eighth most of all Australian keepers while his 157 dismissals has him ranked sixth.

Only Adam Gilchrist, Ian Healy, Rod Marsh, Brad Haddin and Wally Grout have removed more batters than he has.

His average with the bat is the third highest of all Australian wicketkeepers.

Paine has a deserved reputation as one of cricket's great competitors and most resilient players, but how he will be remembered in years to come is anyone's guess.