(Photo: Getty Images)
By Richard Edwards
When Tim Paine touched down at Heathrow in the spring of 2015 he did so with travelling as much on his mind as cricket.
Forward wind three years later and he landed at the same airport this week as Australian captain and a man seemingly charged with overseeing the transformation of the Aussie’s reputation on the global cricket stage.
It’s quite some job given the ball tampering scandal that has effectively cost Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft and David Warner a year of their careers. And potentially more.
But while that triumvirate continue to consider an uncertain future, Paine’s own career has rarely looked so stable.
Ironic then, that when he arrived to play club cricket for Banbury in the Home Counties League, he did so as a man who hadn’t played for his country for seven years and was contemplating retirement from the game completely.
Paine and his wife, Bonnie, were intent on seeing as much of the UK as possible during their summer in Oxfordshire.
The Aussie captain, meanwhile, spent his additional time working as a coach at Oxford University’s Magdalen College.
In short, an Aussie recall couldn’t have been further from his mind. But it didn’t take long for him to make an impact.
“He opened in our first friendly of the season,” says Lloyd Sabin, the club’s first team captain and a man who spent large portions of the 2015 campaign at the crease with Paine.
“The first ball was slightly short – most of us would have gone back and defended it back to bowler. Painey swivelled and smashed it straight over the boundary for six. He had only been off the plane for a couple of hours. That what the first impression he left us. Not bad.”
It was quite some opening but Paine’s influence at Banbury extended far beyond the confines of the club’s Bodicote home.
Paine would spend large amounts of time working with the club’s youth and ladies’ sections, and generally did everything he could to ensure that his expertise was available to anyone and everyone.
He and his wife stayed with club chairman, Martin Phillips, who last year told The Times that Paine was the perfect overseas pro.
“He was wonderful around the club and the youngsters,” said Phillips. “He coached the ladies’ team and the kids. Some Tuesday and Thursday evenings there would be eight or nine wicketkeepers of various ages getting specialist coaching with him and Tim would stay on an extra hour to work with the boys.”
The only pity for Banbury was that Paine didn’t leave having celebrated a Championship success with the club.
“He was genuinely one of the nicest blokes around – he fitted in well, he was truly part of the club,” says Sabin.
“We were actually short of a keeper when he arrived, so Tim really popped up out of nowhere. Our previous keeper had played Minor Counties for Oxfordshire but the replacement didn’t turn out to be too bad did he!
“It can always be hard for a Test batsmen to come into club cricket and still play the same way on pitches at this level. But he came over and still looked a class above.
“If I remember correctly, he left two matches before the end of the season because he was called back by Tasmania. He was named our player of the season in his absence but he sent a video message, which was a really nice touch but completely typical of him.”
It was, though, entirely in keeping with Paine’s approach and the affection he and his wife clearly held the club in.
“We ended up finishing second in the league, so he didn’t get a winner’s medal but everyone remembers his time here,” says Sabin. “A few of the boys are in touch with him regularly and he’s always straight back, asking how Banbury are getting on. His wife, Bonnie, became really friendly with a few of the ladies and they’re still in touch with the family they stayed with here.
“As a family they were just genuinely nice people. To see him captaining Australia now is just incredible. When he got his recall during the Ashes we were delighted. Then, after everything that went on, to see him named captain was incredible.
“It was probably not the ideal circumstances to get the job but he’s the perfect man for it. He’s an ambassador for his country in every sense.”
That will be music to Aussie ears after a winter of negativity.