Former Test skipper Tim Paine may never represent Australia again, having taken an indefinite mental health break amid concerns his presence would be a distraction at the Gabba.
Friday’s bombshell news, coming a week after Paine tearfully stood down as captain after revelations of a sexting scandal in 2017, could mark the end of the wicketkeeper’s cricket career.
Shocked national selectors, who were expected to back the Tasmanian to play in the Ashes opener as per the squad’s wishes, are yet to indicate their plans.
But it is hard to envisage how Paine, who turns 37 when the five-Test series between Australia and England begins on December 8, could force his way back into the XI.
The Tasmanian was ready to retire from domestic cricket in 2017, only for a call from mentor Ricky Ponting to start a process that led to a shock Ashes recall and even more remarkable promotion after Steve Smith was stripped of the captaincy.
This week’s cautionary words of Ponting, who indicated the saga would inevitably prove a distraction, may have played a part in Paine’s epiphany.
“When I spoke to Tim this morning, he wanted to make it really clear that part of his decision of taking a break was he didn’t want this to be a distraction,” new captain Pat Cummins said.
“Another tick for his leadership.
“I’ve been chatting to Tim the whole week.
“We really feel for Tim and his family. He’s just a really loved, well-respected leader.
“He’s going through a tough time.”
Playing cricket is currently the least of Paine’s concerns, with manager James Henderson tweeting “we are extremely concerned for his and (wife) Bonnie’s well-being”.
The veteran underwent neck surgery in September but, as of Thursday, was slated to link up with Test teammates for an intra-squad clash beginning in Brisbane on Wednesday.
Paine was set to bat at first drop in Tasmania’s one-dayer on Friday, giving him a chance to play five consecutive days of cricket after a low-key return via the state’s second XI.
Now, nobody knows when Paine’s next game might be as the fallout continues to him sending an explicit image and lewd messages to a Cricket Tasmania (CT) staffer in 2017.
“We’ll give him as much time as needed. We’d absolutely welcome him back … we hope we see him back in the team soon and just wish him all the best,” Cummins said.
Cricket Australia chief executive Nick Hockley and players’ union counterpart Todd Greenberg offered similar sentiments.
“We recognise that this is an incredibly difficult time for Tim and his family and are committed to supporting them,” Hockley said.
Greenberg and chair Greg Dyer released a joint statement expressing sadness over the latest development in the saga, noting “family and health are more important than any game of cricket”.
“It takes genuine courage to both recognise the need for help and ask for it. Tim now needs some time and space,” they wrote.
Smith, who has spoken at length about his own struggles in the aftermath of the Cape Town cheating scandal, urged Paine to “take care of himself and be really kind to himself”.
“My thoughts are with him and his family,” Smith said.
CT, who fumed on Tuesday about CA’s “appalling” treatment of their favourite son, also vowed to support Paine and his family.