Pleasure and Paine: Aussie skipper has filled the post admirably

TFF attended the Chappell Foundation Dinner raising money for the homeless at the SCG on Tuesday evening with some 450 others, and it was a great evening. The highlight of the evening was when the Australian cricket captain, Tim Paine, was interviewed by Tracey Holmes, and the subject inevitably turned to the extraordinary circumstances which saw Paine go from relatively uncelebrated wicketkeeper to the man Australia turned its lonely eyes to. It was March 2018, see, and in the blowback to sandpapergate, Steve Smith had been stood down as captain and sent home, together with David Warner and Cameron Bancroft. Everything had gone to hell in a handcart, the team was reeling, and just moved into their Johannesburg hotel for the fourth Test, after arriving from Cape Town.

Australian captain Tim Paine.Credit:Getty

Paine received a message. Could he come upstairs to meet with high performance manager Pat Howard and Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland.

Yes, and what happened?

“I was pretty much told there’d been a board meeting back in Australia and I was the 46th Test captain of Australia.”

And he thought he was reeling before that! Only a short time before, after all, he had been on the edge of retiring after even his position in the Tasmanian team was looking shaky. And now here he was, Australian captain?

Dazedly, he goes back to his hotel room to meet with his wife and daughter and his mother, Sally.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” his mother says at his pale visage and thousand-yard stare.

“Mum, I’ve just been made the Test captain of Australia,” her son replies.

Mrs Paine looks him up and down and says, “Yeah, but it’s only for this week, isn’t it?’”

Brought the house down.

And how, Tracey asked, did you feel at this moment.

“If I’m totally honest, I shit myself,” Paine added. “I didn’t know what to do. I’d captained Tasmania when I was quite young … and looking back I was a horrible captain. I was punchy, aggressive … everything was everyone else’s fault, it wasn’t my fault.”

But he came good.

And on the night he came across as humble and likeable, honouring the post he fills.

Head scratcher

I’ll ask again, just who is running the show at St George Illawarra Dragons? I was previously gobsmacked by the news that they were pursuing Israel Folau. But this week comes the news that even though Jack de Belin was dealing with seriously grave rape charges, last year the Dragons gave de Belin a $200,000-a-year pay rise on a new four-year contract. I am not making that up. Look it up! It was put to me rather well by a former NRL Club CEO on Thursday night: “I think rugby league must be the only place in Australia where you can be facing serious rape charges and get a $200,000 pay rise and a new four-year deal.”

Any arguments from anyone? Completely gobsmacking.

Rugby’s nine lives

I told yers, but you wouldn’t listen. It’s about Channel Nine and their magic dust. And yes they are now the landlords of this mighty paper – a mere blip in our 190 years, so don’t panic – so disregard this rant as being anything motivated by that employment. Because I have said it consistently for 30 years, even when those bastards sacked me, TWICE. For in the bowels of Channel Nine – and I saw it once on a moonlit night when I slipped past the security guards who were distracted by Darryl Eastlake – there is this big sack of magic dust that they can sprinkle on a sporting turd sandwich to make it taste good, and a good sandwich to taste GREAT. It is a way of presenting things that make the viewing pleasurable, even as ratings go up, and they have been doing it for forty years, since the days when a bloke called David Hill pioneered new techniques of showing sport before he went off to run Sky Sports in Britain and then Fox Sports in the USA.

The real significance of Saturday night for rugby was not just that it was a cracker-jack game with a thrilling result before a crowd of 42,000 but that it was superbly presented by Nine on free-to-air – liberally sprinkled with the magic dust, with drones, profile packages of the players beforehand, drones, and sideline-eyes Andrew Mehrtens and Sonny Bill Williams – and drew huge ratings, a 232 per cent rise on the same numbers for last year. These have been dark and dismal times for rugby, but the timing of that match and its significance cannot be overstated. For the first time in yonks, we were reminded of how fabulous the game can be, when played well, and when the mob turns up.

That glimmer of light in the east, just might be a new dawn. At the very least, when you put it together with the announcement of the new sponsor for the newly revamped Wallaby jersey this week things look as good as they have in years. Still not great, mind, but compared to the existentially threatened darkness we’ve come through, it was really a bumper week!

And another thing…

As to all your correspondence following my piece replying to Alan Jones’ endless criticism of rugby, thank you sincerely, and it was particularly gratifying to hear from so many people in the rugby community, including five Wallaby captains who have equally had an absolute gutful of Jones and the horse he rode in on.

I just missed my mark on one thing, however, and it reminded me of the French concept of l’esprit de l’escalier, that feeling you get on the stairs after a major rant in the living room when you suddenly think of what you shoulda said! But it’s too late, because you can’t stomp back down the stairs, un-slam the door, put your chair back upright and say, “And another thing!”

’Cept this time, I’ll try it, given it’s a fresh column. See, one of the questions Jones posed in his column in The Australian that got my goat was this:

“Why would we sell off our game to private equity investors when we know their only interest is in their return on investment?”

To which I replied: “Well, if it’s good enough for the All Blacks, Six Nations and South Africa, it has to be a good start for us? And in a professional game, getting the big end of town involved can be no bad thing so long as the pin-stripe brigade doesn’t have control.”

But this is what I shoulda said, channeling Julia Gillard’s famous rant to Tony Abbott in parliament, “I will not be lectured to on sexism and misogyny by that man, I will not”.

Alan! #FFS! There are people who might legitimately voice concerns about going for the big dollars and observing due process to ensure full transparency remains along the way, but you are not one of them. You were involved in “cash for comment”, remember, taking the cash to tailor your comments accordingly?

And now you want to wring your hands – won’t someone think of the children? – about Australian rugby going after the big bucks it needs to get through grim times? There are people I am willing to listen to on this topic Alan, but you are not one of them. You are done.

Sign of the times

With thanks to Rod McGeoch, who sent me the whole thing, here are the opening paragraphs of the final column of the second-best sports writer in America, Tom Boswell, of the Washington Post: “In the movie The Man with Two Brains, Steve Martin stares at a portrait of his dead wife. ‘Becca, if there’s anything wrong with my feelings for Dolores, just give me a sign’, says Martin, who’s in love with Dolores.

“The whole house shakes, objects fly around the room as if blown by an invisible wind, and the larger-than-life portrait of Becca spins in circles on the wall as a woman’s voice shrieks, over and over, ‘No, no, no, NO!’

“When it all stops, Martin, covered with debris, his hair blown in all directions, says, matter-of-factly, to the portrait: ‘Just any kind of sign. I’ll keep on the lookout for it’.

“That scene captures how I’ve felt about retiring after 52 years in The Washington Post’s sports department. I didn’t want to see the signs. But over the past year, with the pandemic and five eye surgeries, I’ve gradually gotten the memo, sent from me to myself: ‘This is the appropriate time’.”

Fare thee well, Mr Boswell. We will need a new doyen.

What they said

Cooper Cronk to Jason Taumololo on Fox, describing the moment he could see the tryline in reach: “Your eyes must have lit up like dinner plates.” I have dined with Cooper recently, and he does leave his dinner plate remarkably shiny.

A report on how the horse that won the Kentucky Derby, Medina Spirit, was disqualified for failing a drug test: “[Trainer] Bob Baffert also suggested on Monday that Medina Spirit may have tested positive after a groom took cough medicine and urinated on some hay, which the horse then ate.”

Rugby Australia chair Hamish McLennan on the Wallabies going back to the colour of the 1991 World Cup winning jersey: “I’m really pleased with the outcome as we continue to put the DNA of rugby in Australia back into the game. Those players who’ve seen it realise it’s a magic jersey. We’ve confirmed the colour. It’s never changing.” RAH!

Anthony Mundine talking complete gibberish on vaccines: “You take the shot then you will have serious health problems even death! There evil plans are to depopulate the world to 1 billion people we are at 7/8 billion now … this is blatant genocide on the human race with a virus that has 99.7 per cent recovery rate! I’ll let my immune system go to work cause if you take the shot your immune system becomes paralysed! DON’T TAKE IT! DO YOUR RESEARCH.”

Australian basketballer Liz Cambage on the reaction to her post protesting the sheer whiteness of the Australian Olympic Committee’s promotional photos: “To all the white Australians in my DMs, in my comments, talking shit about me here and there, I don’t actually care. Your ignorance is embarrassing and it’s sad and I feel really sorry for you, that you have literally zero empathy, and lack of respect to even try and understand where I, a black woman, is trying to speak out on the lack of diversity in Australia. It’s sad. The whitewashing is sad. Your black athletes lead you everywhere. Indigenous athletes are some of the best athletes we have and y’all don’t use them at all.”

Former Opals coach Tom Maher responding to Cambage: “It is inappropriate to make such a big deal out of pretty much nothing. There have been no bad intentions [in posts of the athletes] Was there a homosexual athlete represented? Was there a Chinese Australian athlete mentioned? I mean, where does it end?”

Tom Trbojevic on finally playing his 100th game for the Sea Eagles: “They’ve now started calling me ‘Slats’. As in Michael Slater, because I’ve been stuck in the nineties for a while.”

Brad Thorn after the Reds won Super Rugby AU: “I don’t know how long you can do this for, no wonder there’s so many bald coaches.”

Stickybottle.com reports: “… across the British public the rate of asthma is about nine per cent. However, in the British Olympic squad – across all the sports – the rate is about 20 to 25 per cent.”

Australian cricket captain Tim Paine to Tracey Holmes at the Chappell Foundation Dinner, on the possibility of Steve Smith resuming the captaincy down the track: “I would support him getting that job again. Paine’s comments, according to those at the function, received a rousing ovation from the floor.” Interestingly there was a warm round of applause from the cricket cognoscenti at that remark.

Team of the week

Liz Cambage. You may not like how she said it but she was 100 per cent correct in what she was saying about the need for all sports organisations that have commendably diverse participants and following to reflect that in their public face.

James O’Connor. First he was the Wallaby wunderkind. Then he was lost. Then he was found. Then he captained Queensland in the Super Rugby AU final last Saturday night and scored the winning try five minutes into time added on.

Sergio Giorgi. Father of tennis player Camila Giorgi caused a ruckus at the Italian Open. It’s been too long since we have had a good tennis parent villain, and he might be the man for the job.

Adam Reynolds. The long-time halfback and Souths junior will be with the Broncos from next year, on a three-year deal.

Brad Thorn. The Queensland rugby coach is an unparalleled winner wherever he goes, whatever he does.

Roger Davis. Will soon be stepping down as chairman of the Waratahs. The timing is a pity, given that he leaves when the Waratahs are at an historic low, but he was also presiding when they were at an historic high, back when they won the Super Championship in 2014. It is, seriously, an absolutely thankless task, but all of us are in the debt of those who take on such roles, the servants of the game.

Twitter: @Peter_Fitz

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