A tearful Tim Paine announced his resignation as Australia’s Test cricket captain after a previous investigation into a sexting scandal surfaced less than three weeks before the start of the Ashes, sending the hosts’ plans for the series into disarray.
Paine stood down at a press conference in Hobart – with 19 days until the start of the series against England – after it became clear to him that details of explicit text messages sent to a female former colleague in 2017, which predated his appointment as Test captain, were about to be made public.
An integrity unit investigation four years ago had cleared Paine of any breach of Cricket Australia’s code of conduct but he said he “deeply regretted” his actions at the time and still to this day. Having only announced Australia’s 15-strong Ashes squad 48 hours beforehand, CA accepted Paine’s decision to stand down, effective immediately. It means the national selection panel must now appoint a new captain to lead the side into the first Test in Brisbane on 8 December. Pat Cummins, the vice-captain, had been tipped to take over from the 36-year-old once he retired but Australia have traditionally favoured batters in the role which may bring into play the credentials of Marnus Labaschagne, or, controversially given his role in the ball-tampering scandal, former captain Steve Smith.
Paine said it was a difficult decision to make, but “the right one for me, my family, and cricket”. “We thought this incident was behind us and that I could focus entirely on the team, as I have done for the last three or four years,” he said. “However, I recently became aware that this private text exchange was going to become public.
“On reflection, my actions in 2017 do not meet the standard of an Australian cricket captain, or the wider community. I’m deeply sorry for the hurt and pain that I have caused to my wife, my family, and to the other party. I’m sorry for any damage that this does to the reputation of our sport. And I believe that it is the right decision for me to stand down as captain, effective immediately. I do not want this to become an unwelcome disruption to the team ahead of what is a huge Ashes series.”
Paine had been in the role – termed by some as Australia’s second highest-profile job after the nation’s prime minister – since March 2018. He took the job from Smith in the wake of the Cape Town ball-tampering scandal and was seen as a steady pair of hands to guide Australian cricket in the aftermath of one of its most turbulent periods.
In 2019, he became the first Australian men’s captain to retain the Ashes in England since Steve Waugh in 2001, but pressure mounted on his captaincy after losing last year’s home series to India. During that series he apologised to teammates for letting them down in the Sydney Test after his sledging crossed a line. In total his captaincy ledger includes 11 wins, eight losses and four draws from 23 Tests.
CA acknowledged that Paine had been cleared of any breach of the code of conduct regarding this matter some years ago but CA’s chair, Richard Freudenstein, said the board “does not condone this type of language or behaviour”. Cricket Tasmania said in a statement it too does not condone his behaviour, but “because of the consensual nature of the actions it was determined that no further action was required or appropriate”.
The interaction was, according to CT, “consensual, private, occurred on the one occasion only, was between mature adults and not repeated”.
Paine also received backing from the Australia Cricketers’ Association which said in a statement: “While regrettable, this was an historical mistake that was a private matter between consenting individuals. Tim fully cooperated in an integrity investigation by Cricket Australia in 2018 in which he was exonerated.
“Tim humbly recognised the respect that comes with the Australian captaincy and his resignation reflects the esteem in which he held the role that he served so well in a trying period for Australian cricket. While Tim has clearly made a mistake, he will continue to have the full and unequivocal support of the ACA.”
Despite standing down as captain, the wicketkeeper-batsman will still make himself available for playing selection over the summer. He is facing a race to be fit in time for the first ball at the Gabba after undergoing invasive neck surgery to fix a bulging disc. Losing the captaincy may put his position in the team under pressure. Paine has yet to score a Test century in 57 Test innings and neither his glovework, nor his career average of 32.63, make him an automatic selection with Alex Carey and Josh Inglis also vying for his spot.