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Explained: Is Tim Paine’s remarks on India’s ‘niggling’ an admission that his team was mentally fragile?

Tim Paine, who had captained Australia to two successive home series losses to India in 2018-19 and 2020-21, had said that India had distracted the Aussies with “niggling” and “sideshows”.

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty , Edited by Explained Desk | Kolkata |
Updated: May 15, 2021 10:01:13 am
Australian Test team captain Tim Paine has been at the receiving end since his comment. (File Photo)

Australia’s Test captain Tim Paine was trending on social media on Thursday on the heels of his comment at a charity dinner that India distracted the Aussies with “niggling” and “sideshows”. Paine captained Australia to the second successive home series loss to India– 2018-19 and 2020-21.

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What did Tim Paine say?

Addressing the media at a Chappell Foundation function in Sydney, Paine had said: “Part of the challenge of playing against India is they’re very good at niggling you and trying to distract you with stuff that doesn’t really matter and there were times in that series where we fell for that.”

He added: “The classic example was when they said they weren’t going to the Gabba so we didn’t know where we were going. They’re very good at creating these sideshows and we took our eye off the ball.”

What happened exactly?

Ahead of the final Test of the four-match series, some reports suggested that the Indian team might not be travelling to Brisbane in view of the stricter Covid protocols in Queensland. It had been alleged that India wanted the final Test to be played at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), the venue that hosted the third Test. The tourists eked out a draw in the third Test and conditions at the SCG were said to be suiting them. The Gabba in Brisbane, on the other hand, was considered nigh-on unbreachable, a venue where Australia hadn’t lost a Test for 32 years. But not only did Ajinkya Rahane’s India go to the Gabba, they also breached the fortress to clinch the series.

According to Paine, the uncertainty in the lead-up created confusion and distracted his team, although the reality was that the BCCI never put out any official statement as regards to not going to the Gabba.

How did fans and pundits react to Paine’s comment?

“Also pretty insulting to your own players,” Michael Appleton, a cricket fan from Wellington, New Zealand, snapped at the Australia captain on Twitter. Former India opener Aakash Chopra aimed a cheeky dig, posting: “You are entitled to form your own opinions.” Former India stumper-turned-commentator Deep Dasgupta, too, criticised Paine.

Was Paine’s comment taken out of context?

He was asked about different cricket issues, including captaincy and the challenges of playing against India. A direct question related to distraction, prompted Paine’s reply. The Aussie Test skipper said as much. “I was asked a number of things, and one of those was talking about the challenges of playing against India. One of them is the distraction they can create. There was a lot of talk that they weren’t going to Brisbane.

“They’re always changing gloves and bringing out physios and all that can get on your nerves. Just said that was one of the things that probably distracted me and took my eye off the ball at times,” Paine told the Gilly and Goss podcast.

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What about the Aussies getting a taste of their own medicine?

‘Mental disintegration’ of the opponents had long been the leitmotif of the Australian on-field approach. From the infamous Dennis Lillee-Sunil Gavaskar incident in Melbourne in 1981 that almost forced the latter to stage a walkout, to Michael Slater trying to bully Rahul Dravid in Mumbai during the 2001 series in India; there have been instances aplenty. During the 2018-19 series Down Under, Rishabh Pant found himself at the receiving end of Paine’s ‘babysitter’ sledge. Paine had also tried to ‘mentally disintegrate’ Murali Vijay during that series. In fact, Australia under Steve Waugh had all but formally adopted ‘mental disintegration’ as a part of their on-field strategy.

Following Sandpapergate in 2018, Cricket Australia did a culture review, such had been the negative image of the team. Paine was brought on as Test skipper as part of the culture reset plan.

Earlier, until the 1990s, Indian players’ response to ‘mental disintegration’ attempts, barring a few like Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, used to be tame. Things changed after Sourav Ganguly became captain at the turn of the century. Ganguly deliberately made his counterpart Steve Waugh wait for the toss during the 2001 series, which made the latter “grumpy”. The current Indian team is good at giving it back and as the last two Test series showed, the Australians didn’t look comfortable getting a taste of their own medicine.

Will Paine quit captaincy?

Paine is 36 years old and in the autumn of his career. His wicketkeeping against India was below par as well. He has hinted at stepping down from captaincy after the Ashes series this year and backed former skipper Steve Smith to succeed him. Paine copped a lot of flak after a depleted Indian team trumped the hosts. Australia’s chief selector Trevor Hohns, however, has backed the incumbent.

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