At 16, Tim Paine was in Class XI, but already with a cool $10,000 in his kitty. He was all over the national newspapers, having become the youngest cricketer in Australia to win a rookie contract.
At 25, the baby-faced Tasmanian was at Lord’s collecting his Baggy Green from his more illustrious statemate, Ricky Ponting, to become the youngest wicket-keeper since Ian Healy to do so. At 29, Paine stands at the crossroads, having played his last international match more than three years ago. His right index-finger has been operated upon on five occasions during that time, and is still held up by eight pins and a plate.
For someone touted to be a future Australian captain in his first international season, Paine has spent the last few years either in ‘pain’ or trying to resurrect his fractured career.
“I had two bad years there in 2011 and 2012 when I was out completely with my finger issues. Now I’m back at a 100 per cent fitness and the next 12 months for me is about getting back into that Australian team,” the Hobarts Hurricane skipper for the Oppo CLT20 said.
The urge to return to the heady heights of being his country’s No.1 custodian behind the stumps is understandable as he reveals to have been either too young or too overawed to even fathom the enormity of his record-breaks from the past.
“I didn’t know I was the youngest to get a rookie contract till the next year. I wasn’t the kid with the most pocket-money in school either as you might expect. My mother put all that money in a savings account and I was given $20 a week,” recalls Paine, who played a couple of matches of Pune Warriors in the 2011 IPL. He admits his maiden Test at Lord’s against Pakistan was a blur and he does not remember much of it.
Later the year, he had suffered his first finger-break-struck on the hand by a Dirk Nannes delivery in an exhibition match. Paine returned soon after, and was even named vice-captain of the T20 side in early 2011 only to break his finger again within a week. With his career having hit a roadblock, Paine was leapfrogged in the pecking order by Matthew Wade, ironically someone he grew up playing backyard cricket with. “It was fierce competition and the loser had to buy fish and chips for everyone. It generally was always Wadey,” he recalls.
With Haddin 37, the two childhood mates could be in store for another tussle to take over the gloves from the veteran New South Welshman in the future. And Paine only has to look as far as the man whose boots he aims to fill to realize that Australian wicket-keepers have a history of blossoming once they turn 30. And it’s with a touch of guarded hope that he says, “Fingers-crossed that trend continues.”
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