Paine's tenure ends as it began, in crisis

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Tim Paine's tenure as Test captain ended just as it began: with the national men's team in crisis and in the shadow of a Cricket Australia integrity unit investigation.

For the three-and-a-half years in between, it had promised so much more.

The unlikely man brought in to lead Australia on the field, he was also called upon to burnish the side's image off it in the wake of the ball-tampering scandal.

Among his first objectives - following a 492-run Test loss to South Africa during his first match in charge in 2018 - was a player charter aimed at improving culture.

Pre-match handshakes were on the agenda, while "elite honesty" became the catchphrase of he and Justin Langer's first home summer in charge.

"It's going to be how we go about it; how we want to be seen and what we are about," Paine said before his first full overseas tour as Test captain later that year.

"I know a few of the key messages coming out of it so far are that - we are Australia's team.

"That's really important.

"We are the lucky ones that get to represent our country and pull on that baggy green cap, which is a huge privilege.

"I think we have to go back to that and just remember that we are Australia's team - we are not the Australian cricket team."

And for periods during his time in charge, Australia did more than just meet cultural objectives.

They won 11 of 23 Tests and drew four, headlined in 2019 by becoming the first Australian team to retain the Ashes in England since 2001.

By June 2020 they had climbed back to No.1 in the world with Paine as captain after a dominant home summer against Pakistan and New Zealand.

For a while, Paine had his eyes firmly set on the World Test Championship in England.

But the reality was, Australia were still far from their glory years.

They should have finished off India last summer after knocking them over for 36 in the first Test in Adelaide, but lost the series 2-1 and ultimately a spot in the final.

And with it, questions over Paine's captaincy and place in the team grew louder.

Often a magnet for critics in an era after Adam Gilchrist changed the role of the wicketkeeper forever, Paine still has the third-highest Test batting average of any Australian gloveman.

But there were signs of cracks.

As Australia let victory slip in the third Test at the SCG against India, Paine was fined 15 per cent of his match fee after asking umpire Paul Wilson for some "f***ing consistency".

On another occasion late on day five of the same match, he was heard saying to Ravichandran Ashwin: "at least my teammates like me, dickhead".

It prompted an apology from Paine the next day, with his sledging made no better by the fact he soon after dropped a crucial chance.

"My leadership wasn't good enough, I let the pressure of the game get to me," Paine said at the time.

"It affected my mood and then from there affected my performance.

"I said to our players yesterday 'I've had a really poor game as a leader'.

"I let our group down.

"I'm human. I want to apologise for the mistakes that I made."

Paine insisted at that moment that the incident was a mere "blip on the radar", despite claims from India legend Sunil Gavaskar his days as captain were numbered.

But not even Gavaskar could have predicted the ugly way Paine's time in charge would end on Friday as the lewd texts that he sent to a female colleague in 2017 resurfaced.

How Australia deal with the fallout is now just one of several questions, particularly with the first Ashes Test just 18 days away.

Pat Cummins could take over as captain by the end of the week, while almost as much intrigue will be what role Steve Smith has in the leadership group.

But Australia's players are adamant they have the culture to rebound.

Thrown to the media pack just before Paine's announcement on Friday, Travis Head pointed to Australia's ability to win the T20 World Cup after pressure mounted on Justin Langer as proof of their resilience.

"The group's in a great space," Head said.

"A lot like the T20 group; this group has been together for a long time.

"We've played a lot of series together, we're in a great space, everyone gets along really, really well.

"So what will be the next 24-48 hours will be and we'll move on.

"With Australian cricket as a whole ... we've got good people and we're fully behind everyone."

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