Tim Paine scandal a mess of Cricket Australia’s making — and it will get worse

The cliché goes that the Australian Test captaincy is the second-most important job in Australia, and on Friday there was an obvious visual cue that Tim Paine was about to do the important work of delivering some very bad news: the wall behind him was devoid of corporate logos.

Paine resigned before the imminent exposure of personal failings. As his solitary figure hunched over a statement as cringeworthy and unedifying as any sexting scandal demands, the 2017 timeline of the events that led to his demise revealed institutional failings more alarming still.

That chronology told us that Cricket Australia (CA), the organisation that popularised the term “elite honesty”, had engaged in a four-year cover-up and then dismounted with duplicitous zeal: take it as read that if Paine hadn’t jumped, his employer would have pushed him.

CA must now answer a number of uncomfortable questions, but none more pertinent than this: How and why, in the wake of the 2018 Sandpapergate fiasco, did it choose to rebuild the country’s cricketing reputation by appointing a Test captain with such a damaging scandal hanging over his head?

Another is: If the incident involved no breach of CA’s code of conduct, as Paine claimed, yet its exposure is considered worthy of such a humiliating job loss, is the code of conduct worth the paper it’s printed on?

Like most of the big sports now, CA likes to consider its integrity department a kind of private police force, but at times like this it is shown up as nothing grittier than a public relations team with an accent on crisis management. Only the crises never quite get managed, do they?

Paine took no questions on Friday, but at some point, he will need to answer some too. For instance, if it was only “on reflection” that his behaviour did “not meet the standard of an Australian cricket captain”, what exactly has changed between 2017 and 2021, and why did he accept the job in the first place?

Many will forward a not-unconvincing argument that Paine’s loved ones hold the exclusive rights to any hurt and, having squared things off with them, he should never have been forced into the public domain to air dirty laundry.

But that doesn’t square with the image cultivated by CA and their corporate partners of Paine as wholesome and sweet — the perma-smiling boy next door who healed a cricket nation in the wake of its last major scandal — not to mention the rich benefits all parties have derived from that image.

It would also not wash with the huge swathes of Australians — women, particularly — who don’t care for cricket and only see another celebrated and powerful man exposed as weak and perhaps unworthy of his exalted status.

Tim Paine and the Australian cricket team at training in Johannesburg
Tim Paine was appointed captain when Australian cricket was reeling from the Sandpapergate fiasco in South Africa.(AP: Themba Hadebe)

In the following days, weeks and probably for months, like all cover-ups, this affair will become messier still, as evidenced by the flurry of media releases issued on Friday afternoon — a far cry from the anodyne screeds that normally accompany such moments.

In an extraordinary statement released soon after Paine’s press conference, Cricket Tasmania and its chairman discredited and all but named the complainant.

“The allegations raised against Tim Paine by a former Cricket Tasmania employee were only brought to the attention of Cricket Tasmania when formal charges of theft were laid against that employee in mid-2018,” the statement read.

“Cricket Tasmania Chairman, Andrew Gaggin, said there was no complaint raised at the time of the incident in November 2017, nor when the employee’s position with the organisation was terminated.

“As soon as Cricket Tasmania was made aware, it undertook an investigation that determined the interaction was consensual, private, occurred on the one occasion only, was between mature adults and was not repeated.”

While issuing an assurance it “does not condone this type of behaviour”, Cricket Tasmania said “because of the consensual nature of the actions it was determined that no further action was required or appropriate”.

And sure, perhaps it was consensual, private, and only occurred once between mature adults. But you take your chances when you bat so far out of the crease.

Gaggin was finally quoted as saying it was “inappropriate to comment any further given the matter [is] still before the courts”, yet it is hard to imagine a more explicit and explanatory series of comments.

Australian wicketkeeper Tim Paine looks at his gloves while lying on the grass during a Test.
Paine will likely have to answer key questions at some point.(AAP: Julian Smith)

In offering its “unequivocal support”, the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) was a little more equivocal than Gaggin in reacting to the precise circumstances.

“While respecting the decision made by Tim Paine, the ACA is saddened that he felt the need to resign from the captaincy of the Australian Test team,” its statement read.

“While regrettable, this was an historical mistake that was a private matter between consenting individuals.”

There are no winners here, but spare a thought for the person who will suffer most.

In his landmark study of Australia’s Test captains, Ray Robinson became perhaps the first cricket journalist to seriously consider the toll of the job on wives and partners.

“The demands international cricket makes on players put a strain on marriage,” he wrote.

So too modern life and technology. Just ask Bonnie Paine.

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