Ashes: Are Australia in worse shape than England after squad announcement?

Serving school meals
Tim Paine kept wicket for a Cricket Australia XI in England’s second warm-up game in Adelaide

As news started to leak through of the squad that Australia would name for the first Ashes Test, the home side’s problems began to be laid bare.

From the other side of the world, and with all the problems England have had to deal with, Australia seemed unbeatable, especially with Mitchell Starc limbering up to devour touring batsmen by taking two hat-tricks in the same match.

But the local wisdom was that Steve Smith’s side had just as many problems as the Poms. When the squad was confirmed on Friday, it was fair to assume that they have even more.

If the low profile of some of England’s touring party led to them being dubbed the ‘Unnameables’, Australia’s selectors have gone and chosen the ‘Unfathomables’.

Chief among them is Tim Paine, a wicketkeeper who played his most recent Test seven years ago and has not even been taking the gloves for his state side, Tasmania.

Since Brad Haddin retired at the end of the 2015 Ashes, Australia have tried Peter Nevill and Matthew Wade behind the stumps. Nevill has averaged 21.66 in 13 Tests, Wade 20.23 in 10.

If they were not fancied to play in Brisbane – neither has made a first-class half-century this season – then options started to become slim.

Australia’s first-class system consists of six teams, so only half a dozen wicketkeepers at any one time.

Of the other four to have played in the Sheffield Shield this week, opening batsman Cameron Bancroft will earn a Test debut at the Gabba and will not be burdened with the gloves, youngsters Seb Gotch and Jimmy Peirson have only 13 first-class matches between them and Test outsider Alex Carey has not reached 50 this season.

So Australia turned to Paine, whose exile from the Tasmania side inadvertently led to a Test call-up.

Sent to play for a Cricket Australia XI against England in Adelaide last week, he made 52. Due to feature in a similar fixture in Townsville, Paine was summoned back to play for Tasmania and made an unbeaten 71 against Victoria. He had done enough for a Test recall.

‘Morons masquerading as mentors’

On one hand, this is a lovely tale of sporting redemption for Paine, who earlier this year admitted to having thoughts of retirement.

When he made his Test debut in 2010, deputising for the injured Haddin, he did enough with bat and gloves to suggest that he would be Haddin’s long-term successor.

Later that year Paine was playing in a charity match when he was struck on the right index finger by Dirk Nannes. The break he suffered would eventually require five operations, some of them involving bone taken from his wrist and hip.

A downward spiral away from both the international team and the Tasmania side, his career was kept afloat by his performances for Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash – impressive enough to earn a recall to the Australia Twenty20 team last February.

“Before that I was probably looking to retire and take a job with Kookaburra (the bat manufacturer),” said Paine in October. “It turned around pretty quickly and I’m pretty glad that it has.”

In that sense, his selection has merit. Paine has played Australia’s past five T20s, he is in better form with the bat than any of his rivals and is regarded as one of the best glovemen in Australia.

From another perspective, it is an incredible punt. He has kept only four times in the Sheffield Shield in two years and his only first-class century came in 2006. Darren Lehmann, the 47-year-old Australia coach who stopped playing in 2007, scored a ton more recently than that.

Former leg-spinner Stuart MacGill said the selectors are “morons masquerading as mentors”.