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With less than three weeks until the first ball is bowled in the Ashes series, the Tim Paine sexting scandal couldn't have come at a worse time for the Aussies, or a better time for England.
Paine resigned as Australia's Test captain on Friday as it was revealed he'd been involved in a sexting exchange with a one-time Cricket Tasmania employee in late 2017.
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The news sent shockwaves through Australia and provided Britain with a breakfast bombshell as they woke to see the latest Australian cricketing scandal dominating the headlines.
Understandably, the reaction in England has been fierce, with Sky Sports' headline ‘Career in ashes’ summing up Paine's sorry predicament.
Daily Mail cricket writer Paul Newman referred to the racism scandal that has rocked English cricket, and suggested that Paine's scandal had topped even that.
“It has taken a lot for English cricket’s race crisis to be knocked off the top of the game’s news agenda this week, at least temporarily. But somehow the Aussies managed it on Friday with the sight of yet another disgraced captain resigning in tears,” Newman wrote.
The Telegraph's Scyld Berry said England “may be privately pleased” about the Aussie cricketing scandal because it could act as a "grave and destabilising moment” for the Aussies, ahead of the five-Test series.
Berry, like many other fans around the world, found it incredible that Paine had been promoted as captain by Cricket Australia (CA) in 2017 and remained in the position even after officials learnt of his involvement in the sexting scandal in 2018.
“It is ironic too. Paine was always seen as the safe pair of hands in every sense. Not only a sound wicketkeeper and batsman, but composed and sensible, and therefore the right man to take over from Steve Smith, when he too resigned tearfully, after Sandpaper-gate,” Berry wrote.
“As he is nearly 37, and after this incident will attract all sorts of flak from the England players, not to mention from some of the Australian public, Paine could be replaced as keeper, whereupon an enormous weight is going to fall on Pat Cummins, his vice-captain."
Berry's view is one that has been echoed by fans around the world, with many questioning how CA kept him in the position of Australia captain despite knowing he'd been subject to an integrity investigation.
The Barmy Army also couldn't resist taking a shot as many English fans reacted to the news with glee.
— England’s Barmy Army (@TheBarmyArmy) November 19, 2021
— Michael Smyth (@MichaelSmyth_) November 19, 2021
O the beautiful irony of Tim Paine being the guy Cricket Australia brought in to clean up the image of Aussie cricket. 🤭🤭🤭🤭🤭🤡🤡🤡🤡
— Andrew Spencer (@HaylingBilly01) November 19, 2021
The entire newsroom stopped for the Tim Paine presser.
Scott Morrison barely gets that.
— Mikey Nicholson (@Mikey_Nicholson) November 19, 2021
Tim Paine was picked as the player to clean up Australian cricket after the sandpaper scandal.
Cricket Australia were made aware of his texts three months after they appointed him as captain and cleared him following an investigation…
— David Coverdale (@dpcoverdale) November 19, 2021
How on earth did CA conclude this didn't break the Code of Conduct?!?#TimPaine
— Brett McKay (@BMcSport) November 19, 2021
— Akash Fotedar (@akashfotedar5) November 19, 2021
Tim Paine cleared after initial investigation
Paine was initially part of a Cricket Tasmania investigation that only came to attention in mid-2018, after Paine had assumed the captaincy in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa that cost Steve Smith the position.
With Paine cleared of a code of conduct breach, Cricket Australia bosses kept the wicketkeeper-batsman in the position despite his elevation to the leadership being based around a good guy image seen as needed to restore pride and respect in the Test captaincy.
Former Test captain Kim Hughes, who tearfully quit as Australian captain himself in 1984, said it was astounding Paine held onto the position once those in charge knew of the sexting matter.
"(Paine) did what he had to do (by resigning) but what I find staggering is that Cricket Australia reviewed the situation and did nothing," Hughes told Five AA radio in Adelaide.
"The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
"Integrity? You've got to be kidding me. For god's sake. You found that out and then said well that's still acceptable and to appoint him captain? Give me a break.
"It's absolutely staggering."
Most of those at the top of Cricket Australia at the time of Paine's original appointment, including chief executive James Sutherland, have since left their positions with the body undergoing a comprehensive hierarchy change.
The players' union meanwhile issued a statement reiterating its support for Paine, who has insisted he wants to play on for Australia in the upcoming Ashes series.
"While regrettable, this was an historical mistake that was a private matter between consenting individuals," the Australian Cricketers' Association statement said.
"Tim fully cooperated in an integrity investigation by Cricket Australia in 2018 in which he was exonerated ... while Tim has clearly made a mistake, he will continue to have the full and unequivocal support of the ACA."
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