Even in the midst of brutal scrutiny, the Australian captain has found predictable support from expected quarters. However, the writing is etched on the wall and will not be washed away that quickly.

Tim Paine’s job was always on a timer and the arduous job specification clear from the start. He was even reluctant to take over but did, knowing his job was to steer Australia out of shark-infested waters. In the same breath, it had to be said that these were largely self-inflicted wounds on Australia, coming for some time before the Cape Town Test blew the lid on Australia’s growing angst that saw them resort to the ball-tampering affair as a team.

Caught on camera and no place to hide, Steve Smith’s tearful admission of guilt found sympathy in few corners even in Australia. Secretly and publicly former Australian cricketers have suggested that there is more to the story than has been revealed.

Australia operates in the dark shadow of their susceptibility under pressure made even more evident once more to alarming levels in the way the captain and certain members of the team responded to India’s surging challenge, and also, in the obvious truth that their playing eleven is currently unsettled.

What Australia lack is leadership and consistency? Paine was always the stopgap and while Trevor Hohns might be attempting to damage control, even the Australian selectors know they are in a bind.

They are left with either the option to burden the still burgeoning batsman that is Marnus Labuschagne or be forced to put the captaincy in the hands of a greenhorn who has not made a name for himself yet on the circuit. Choosing Steve Smith at this time, particularly after the Indian debacle and controversy that involved him in a seemingly underhand attempt to unsettle the man of the moment, Rishabh Pant, is only likely to divide Australia’s rank and file further.

While the Australian head selector may have talked up the criticism of Paine publicly as being wide off the mark, his statement of the assertion of faith in Paine is far from convincing. A lot will depend on whether Australia play South Africa, pandemic situation notwithstanding, and whether a short-on-confidence South Africa might be able to upstage the rattled Australian cricket team.

Australia have greater worries looming that they don’t have concrete answers about their playing line up and their captaincy choices are vastly limited. Making changes at this stage will also play into adding greater uncertainty going into the Ashes. That is the chance Cricket Australia or the Australian selectors do not want to make. Paine’s lifeline rests on Australia’s fragile countenance. 

There is little doubt that while Paine served the purpose of a transition, the way to the future is fraught with uncertainty as far as Australia are concerned. No longer affording the luxury to be able to rotate their players but forced to make changes in their search for the right core of players, Australia and Paine are on their last legs. No win against South Africa will change that.  

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