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Australia's Paine pick an amazing Ashes gamble

Omnisport
NEWS
116   //    17 Nov 2017, 06:46 IST
Tim Paine - cropped
Tim Paine during the tour match between a Cricket Australia XI and England

Australian cricket fans may have grown accustomed to selection curveballs in recent years, but few picks can have generated more surprise than the decision to draft in Tim Paine for the opening Ashes Tests.

Paine's truly sensational recall to the Test arena was confirmed on Friday when the wicketkeeper – who has not even donned the gloves for his state, Tasmania, in the Sheffield Shield this season – was named ahead of Matthew Wade and Peter Nevill in a 13-man home squad.

Neither Wade – the first-choice stumper at Tasmania and Australia's previous incumbent behind the wickets – nor Nevill can justifiably claim to have been too hard done by. Both men have endured recent struggles in the Test arena and they each failed to make an impact in the first three rounds of Australia's first-class competition, when it was clear their country's wicketkeeping slot was very much up for grabs. Wade's five innings this season have yielded a dismal total of 38 runs.

Nevertheless, it is nothing short of astonishing that Australia have handed the gloves to a player who has spent the opening weeks of the domestic campaign stood in the slip cordon for his state.

Paine was openly contemplating the possibility of bringing an end to his cricketing career only nine months ago, despite being recalled to Australia's Twenty20 side, as he languished in the Tasmania second XI for red-ball matches.

And although he has demonstrated relatively encouraging form with the bat this month, following up a 52 for a Cricket Australia XI against England with an unbeaten 71 versus Victoria, his record in whites is modest at best.

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When news of his impending return leaked out on the eve of Friday's squad announcement, several Twitter users took pleasure in highlighting the fact Australia's head coach, the 47-year-old Darren Lehmann, has made a Sheffield Shield hundred more recently than Paine.

The latter has, in fact, only reached three figures once in the competition, way back in 2006, and holds a career batting average of just 29 from 91 first-class outings.

Paine's qualities behind the stumps are not in doubt and it should not be forgotten that he impressed in the Test arena back in 2010, deputising for the injured Brad Haddin in four matches.

However, a badly broken finger then derailed Paine's career and his hopes of earning further five-day caps certainly looked to be over in February when he told cricket.com.au he "could be a month or two away" from retiring.

The miserable form of Wade and Nevill has subsequently led to an opportunity that could not have been anticipated.

Selectors and fans alike often refer to players "banging the door down" for a place in the national team. It can be argued Paine merely nudged the doorbell.

Steve Smith's side are undoubted favourites to beat England on home soil and their squad for Brisbane - also notable for the call-up of in-form rookie batsman Cameron Bancroft and an umpteenth recall of Shaun Marsh - does not change that.

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Yet it is interesting to note England's only Ashes success in their last seven visits to Australia came in a 2010-11 series preceded by clear confusion in the hosts' selection policy, epitomised by the bizarre announcement of a 17-man squad for the Brisbane Test.

In recent weeks, much has been made of Ben Stokes' absence from the touring party and the perceived weakness of an England batting line-up boasting three unproven players in the top five.

Australia's initial selection offers a reminder that they too have plenty of potential frailties. If their returning keeper fails to shine, it is anyone's guess who may be called up next.

Omnisport
NEWS
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