National selectors back Tim Paine as captain: 'His leadership was never in question'

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Criticism of Paine totally unfair - Selector (1:57)

Cricket Australia selector Trevor Hohns comments on Matthew Wade's form and says criticism of Tim Paine has been unwarranted. (1:57)

The criticism directed at Tim Paine during Australia's series loss against India has been termed "wide of the mark" and some of it "in poor taste" as he was given full endorsement to continue as captain for the Test series against South Africa, which is due to be played in March.

National selector Trevor Hohns said the panel had not spent a moment debating Paine's position as captain when they came to name the Test squad, while head of national teams Ben Oliver said that the result against India had "done nothing to diminish" Paine's standing in the game.

Paine came under scrutiny on a number of fronts over the last two Tests when Australia were unable to turn strong final-day positions into victories - India securing a drew at the SCG before a famous run chase at the Gabba to take the series 2-1, inflicting Australia's first defeat at the ground since 1988.

Prior to the heady conclusion in Brisbane, Paine had come under pressure for his behaviour on the final day at the SCG and particularly his sledging directed at R Ashwin. The day after the match he apologised for his conduct, adding that it had also affected his wicketkeeping during a final day where he dropped three crucial catches.

Paine managed two half-centuries during the series but his tactics were also called into question on the final day at the Gabba when Australia were unable to defend 328.

"Tim's leadership in our mind was never in question, we didn't spend one minute on Tim's leadership during our selection meeting," Hohns said. "He's been a terrific leader through some pretty trying circumstances.

"I must say, too, if you don't mind, some of the criticism he's had to endure in our view has been pretty wide of the mark and 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 are all disappointed with the performance and losing to India, that's difficult to accept sometimes, but I think the criticism of Paine has been totally unfair."

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.

"And as a leader, he has been brilliant. To captain a squad through the many challenges presented by the pandemic - not least the unique pressures of hub life - is no easy task and Tim did that with strength, humility and good humour.

"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."

However, while Paine is secure in his role for now the succession plan for when he does leave the job remains uncertain. He would not look further ahead than a possible World Test Championship final when asked at the end of the India series.

Pat Cummins will continue as vice-captain of the Test side and Hohns said there was confidence he could stand-in for Paine if required at short notice, but it is far from certain that he would be a long-term candidate.

There is yet to be a definite answer as to whether Steven Smith would be considered for the role again. Travis Head and Alex Carey have captained Australia A sides this summer although neither are currently in the Test side - albeit Head now looks set to return in South Africa - while Marnus Labuschagne has been another name thrown into the mix but, like Cummins, has no captaincy experience.

"We are always looking for leaders and trying when the opportunity arises to give someone some experience," Hohns said. "Over the last week or two there has been various names thrown up, let's face it we have to canvass all those options and try to come up with a group of leaders that can take Australian cricket forward."

What is becoming clearer, though, is that Carey is in prime position to take the gloves in the Test side when Paine finishes having been included for the South Africa tour.

"Alex has been on our radar for some time," Hohns said. "Over the last 12-18 months has got better and better as a player so our thinking is pretty clear there without rubberstamping it."