Cricket: Australia captain Paine apologises for Ashwin sledging, defends Smith against accusations of gamesmanship

SYDNEY (REUTERS, AFP) – Australia captain Tim Paine has apologised for his conduct during the final day of the third cricket Test against India, saying his sledging of Ravichandran Ashwin fell short of the standards he has set for the team.

Stump microphones picked up the attempt by Paine to unsettle Ashwin, who replied with barbs of his own and then with important runs on the fifth and final day of the third Test.

Wicketkeeper Paine at one stage called Ashwin a “d***head” as the spinner and Hanuma Vihari batted through the last three hours of the match to save a draw at the Sydney Cricket Ground and keep the series tied at 1-1. The final game of the four-day series starts on Friday at the Gabba in Brisbane.

“We can’t wait to get you to the Gabba,” Paine started.

Ashwin replied: “Just like we want to get you to India. It’ll be your last series.”

Paine then said: “at least my team-mates like me” and added an expletive.

Ashwin stepped away from the crease for a second, but then continued with his innings as he batted more than two hours to finish not out on 39 as India salvaged a draw.

‘Very poor’

Former England captain Michael Vaughan called Paine’s conduct on the field “very very poor”. “Let’s be honest the captain of Australia since sandpaper gate has led this team with great distinction, attitude & never once has he crossed the line of negativity in my eyes,” Vaughan wrote on Twitter. “…but today his language behind the stumps & sledging today was back to the old days !! Very very poor !!”

Former Australia batsman Michael Hussey said he “didn’t like it” but added “it (the verbal volleys) didn’t overstep the mark”.


Paine, who apologised to his team mates for his three dropped catches in his post-match news conference on Monday (Jan 11), requested the opportunity to address the media again on Tuesday.

“I want to apologise for the way I went about things. I’m someone who prides himself on the way he leads this team and yesterday was a poor reflection of that,” he told reporters.

“My leadership wasn’t good enough, I let the pressure of the game get to me. Yesterday, I fell short of my expectations and my team’s standards.

“I’m human, I want to apologise for the mistakes I made yesterday … we’ve set really high standards over the last 18 months and yesterday was a bit of a blip on the radar.”

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The 36-year-old said he had felt “off” for the entire match, during which he was also fined 15 per cent of his match fee for swearing while complaining to an umpire.

Paine is acutely aware that the only reason he was handed the Australian captaincy after the Newlands ball-tampering scandal cost Steve Smith the job in 2018 was because of the non-confrontational way he went about the game.

“I spoke to (Ashwin) quickly after the game yesterday, and I said to him ‘Yeah, you end up looking the fool, you open your mouth and you end up dropping a catch’,” he added.

“We had a bit of a laugh about that … and everything was fine.”

Paine said his behaviour had not caused him to consider his position as captain and he was looking forward to leading Australia out on Friday.

“I have to cop what’s coming on the chin and I’m really looking forward to moving on to Brisbane and getting back more for playing the game more like Tim Paine plays the game,” he said.

Defending Smith

The wicketkeeper also defended Smith against charges of gamesmanship during the Sydney Test, insisting his teammate was not erasing Rishabh Pant’s guard in the batting crease on Monday but merely indulging one of his many idiosyncrasies.

Video footage from the stump camera of Smith dragging his boot across the crease on a tense final day of the match went viral on social media and some former players accused him of gamesmanship at best, cheating at worst.

Vaughan said it was “very, very poor from Steve Smith” while former player and commentator David Lloyd called his behaviour “childish”. Former bowler Darren Gough said he found Smith’s behaviour “shocking”. “Does he think he’s invisible with all those cameras,” he said on Twitter.

Paine said Smith had been upset by the allegations.

“I know he’s really disappointed with the way it’s come across,” Paine said.

“If you’ve watched Steve Smith play Test cricket, that’s something that he does every single game five or six times a day.

“He’s always standing in the batting crease shadow batting. As we know, he’s got those many Steve Smith quirks and one of those is he’s always marking centre.

“He was certainly not changing (Pant’s) guard and if he was, that’s something that the Indians would have kicked up a big stink about at the time.”

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Pant’s heroic knock of 97 set the platform for India to save the Test after being set a daunting target of 407 to win, with Vihari and Ashwin thwarting Australia’s attack over the last three hours to secure a draw.

Paine said Smith might have to give up the practice given how it was interpreted.

“It’s one of his mannerisms, he does it a lot, he was marking centre he wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination trying to change guard or anything like that,” he added.

“It’s something that he might need to look at because of the perception of it.”

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