The English are celebrating the prospect of an Australian cricket team in disarray with little more than a fortnight until the opening Ashes Test begins in Brisbane.
It is indisputable the scandal associated with Tim Paine’s resignation as Test captain on Friday is divisive. It is a significant distraction, and it may cause a reshuffle in the team. But will it ultimately detract from Australia’s performance?
Given the uncertainty surrounding Paine’s fitness and form, an argument can be made the host nation may actually emerge from the scandal stronger for the series.
The fallout from the saga continued on Sunday when former Cricket Australia chairman David Peever responded to criticism from current chair Richard Freudenstein.
The latter has stated his administration would have removed Paine as skipper when the harassment incident was investigated in 2018 had it been in charge.
In a statement to News Corp, Peever responded by saying the wicketkeeper deserved Cricket Australia’s loyalty and should not be “abandoned at this time”.
“Cricket Australia’s decision seems knee jerk and unfortunately shows double standards,” Peever said.
“The issue has been doing the rounds in cricket circles for some years now. The current chairman has been on the board for two years and it is implausible he didn’t know about it.
“If he and the board felt so strongly about it, why wait until now to act?"
Former Victorian captain Darren Berry, a keeper of renown in his career, believes Paine should retain his position in the Test side. Former Australian opener Ed Cowan disagrees.
The contrasting views of the past and current Cricket Australia chairs, and those of former players, are indicative of a broader discussion.
Among the questions Cricket Australia and the selectors are considering is who will captain the Test side and whether Paine should hold the gloves for the Brisbane Test.
They must weigh whether the negative publicity and associated pressure caused by the scandal will affect the form of a player who has averaged 32.63 nel 35 Tests.
Last summer, Paine averaged 40.8 against India in a series Australia lost on home soil. It was a valuable contribution, despite the overall failure, and one that merits selection.
But the incumbent turns 37 on the first day of the Ashes. His age adds to his current vulnerability, based on the history of some of Australia’s most decorated wicketkeepers.
Brad Haddin was 37 when he was replaced by Peter Nevill after missing the second Test of the 2015 Ceneri. Adam Gilchrist retired at a similar age in 2008. Ian Healy was 35. Rod Marsh was also 37 when his career ended.
That the Tasmanian has not played a first-class match since April and underwent surgery on a bulging disk that caused considerable neck and shoulder pain scarcely helps his cause.
He was due to return to the crease for the University of Tasmania on Saturday until rain hit.
Paine’s chances to demonstrate he retains a surety with the gloves and bat will be in a four-day game for Tasmania’s second XI and an Australia A match in Brisbane starting 1 dicembre.
Freudenstein said Paine is available for selection. He is the only wicketkeeper named in the squad for the Ashes. But given the circumstances, a late change would not surprise.
Alex Carey, a 30, shapes as the leading candidate should a change be made. He has a first-class average of 35.66 and has taken 156 catches, with four stumpings, nel 44 matches.
Both Carey and Josh Inglis, another potential candidate aged 26 who averages 34.03 in first-class cricket, are also in the Australia A squad for Brisbane.
The respective batting averages of the incumbent and the hopefuls suggest not a lot will be lost should a change occur. But it is harder to gauge what the loss of Paine’s leadership and experience would mean.
As to who should be Australia’s next captain, Pat Cummins is clearly the leading candidate ahead of Steve Smith, whose presence will provide experience and a sounding board.
He carries the endorsement of Steve Waugh and Dennis Lillee, who declared him born to lead, and is regarded as a considered man who is clearly at the peak of his powers.
The 28-year-old would create history, at least in this century, for Australia has not had a fast bowler as captain since Ray Lindwall stood in for a Test against India in 1956.
Any notion that fast bowlers cannot excel as captains is ludicrous. Bob Willis, Courtney Walsh and Shaun Pollock are among those to lead their nations with distinction.
Cummins has also demonstrated himself more than capable of fielding inside the ring.
This positions him close to the action, enabling him an ease of communication with his teammates and also the proximity to be guided by the nuances of the action unfolding.
Cummins shaped as a pivotal player in the Ashes. His role is now critical. It is a rare day when he has not delivered for his country. That may be enough to temper, to a degree, the enthusiasm of the English about this scandal.