‘Ashes conspiracy’: Critics slammed for Paine crucifixion
Australia's cricket hierarchy has fired a thinly veiled missile back at English Test legends who it believes are trying to undermine Tim Paine's captaincy before next summer's Ashes.
While they have not been named, it's believed that outspoken England greats Michael Vaughan, Kevin Pietersen and Darren Gough were the target of Wednesday's fierce defence of Paine's leadership, as Australia announced its South African touring party.
Australian officials are seething over the vicious attacks on Paine's character from ex-players on the other side of the world, interpreting it as a below-the-belt Ashes conspiracy.
Vaughan claimed Australia would not miss Paine's leadership and said Alex Carey should immediately replace him, while Pietersen slammed the Tasmanian as "not an Australian captain" and "not a good enough player".
Paine apologised for his crass sledging of Ravi Ashwin on the final day of the third Test in Sydney, and although that doesn't make him immune from criticism after a chastening series loss at home to an understrength India, angry Australian officials believe the global pile-on was out of proportion for one bad day out of two-and-a-half years in the job for Paine.
National selector Trevor Hohns and high-performance boss Ben Oliver refused to name names when they launched a rousing defence of Paine's leadership on Wednesday, but it's understood Australia's anger is directed at what it has perceived to be an opportunistic attempt from England's loudest voices to create hysteria on the eve of an Ashes rematch.
"Tim's leadership in our mind was never in question. We did not spend one minute on Tim's leadership during our selection meeting," Hohns said at Wednesday's squad announcement. "He's been a terrific leader of this Australian team through some pretty trying circumstances since he's been in a top position.
"And I must say too, some of the criticism he's had to endure in our view has been pretty wide of the mark.
"In particular, some of it has been in poor taste from overseas people. I think Tim has been unfairly criticised in this instance.
"Sure, we're all disappointed with the performance of the team and losing to India out here. That's very difficult to accept sometimes. But I think the criticism of Tim Paine has been totally unfair."
Selectors have called up Carey as a back-up wicketkeeper to Paine in South Africa, and Hohns conceded his panel was on the lookout for future leaders.
"There have been various names thrown up and let's face it, we've got to canvass all those options and come up with a leader or a group of leaders … which could take Australian cricket forward," Hohns said.
But Australia has rallied around 36-year-old Paine for South Africa and still wants him as its Ashes captain.
Vaughan said he didn't trust Paine's instincts in close games, referring to the famous loss at Headingley in 2019 and then the Gabba meltdown against India.
"I always feel that captains should be judged on how they marshal a tight match, rather than how they lead in an easy victory, and Paine is making some strange calls," wrote Paine in the London Telegraph. "Australia can cope without his leadership."
Pietersen was more savage.
"Having played against him and watched him, he's not an Australia captain. He's just not a good enough player, apart from anything else," Pietersen said. "I would never have made him captain in the first place, and he's probably never going to lead them into another Test match."
Normally reserved team boss Oliver also leapt to Paine's defence and slammed his critics for undermining the skipper's character and what he's achieved in a team that came from rock bottom after Sandpapergate to reclaim the Ashes and No. 1 ranking.
"Tim Paine has been an outstanding captain since taking over the Australian men's Test team in incredibly difficult circumstances," Oliver said.
"Tim has the support of the team, the coach and everyone else at Cricket Australia and the result of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy series has done nothing to diminish that.
"Tim is in career-best form with the bat and while the series against India was not his best with the gloves by his own admission, he remains in the top echelon of wicketkeepers globally.
" … After a series that attracted so much global interest, it was inevitable there'd be scrutiny. But some of the commentary surrounding Tim and his position as Test captain has been wide of the mark."
Originally published as 'Ashes conspiracy': Critics slammed for calculated Paine crucifixion