Cricket Australia admits Tim Paine scandal should have ended captaincy in 2018

Cricket Australia has conceded Tim Paine should have been stood down as Australia’s Test captain when he was first investigated over a text message scandal three years ago, with background checks to now be conducted on potential captaincy successors.

Paine stood down from the Test captaincy in tears on Friday afternoon – less than three weeks out from the opening Ashes clash against England – after admitting to sending inappropriate texts to a female Cricket Tasmania colleague in 2017.

Paine was investigated by both the state and national sporting bodies in 2018 and cleared of breaching Cricket Australia’s code of conduct at the time. Having been restored to the Test side in late 2017, Paine was then made Test captain in the fallout of Australian cricket’s sandpaper scandal during the ill-fated 2018 South African tour.

However, speaking on Saturday, the current CA chairman, Richard Freudenstein, said allowing Paine to remain as skipper was a mistake by previous administrators in light of the initial integrity investigation.

“I can’t talk about the 2018 decision, I wasn’t there,” Freudenstein told reporters. “But I am saying, based on the facts as they are, today the board of Cricket Australia would not have made that decision. I acknowledge the decision clearly sent the wrong message that this behaviour is acceptable and without serious consequences. The role of Australian cricket captain must be held to the highest standards.”

Freudenstein said he considered the case closed when he joined CA’s board in 2019 in his explanation as to why action on Paine’s behaviour was not taken earlier.

Paine’s resignation from the captaincy has pace-bowling spearhead and vice-captain Pat Cummins favoured to take on Australian cricket’s highest mantle. One concern in plumping for Cummins is the workload that would see him juggling skipper duties and the rigours of his high-octane bowling, both of which would be magnified by the five Ashes Tests being scheduled to take place in a little over six weeks from the 8 December series opener in Brisbane.

The former captain Steve Smith looms as either an alternate option or deputy having served a leadership ban for his role in the 2018 ball-tampering episode that led to Paine’s rise. The 36-year-old wicketkeeper had been widely tipped for retirement after the Ashes. With that in mind Freudenstein said the process of finding Australia’s next captain was already under way and would now be accelerated.

He refused to speculate on potential candidates beyond confirming Smith, 32, remained among them, and confirmed contenders would be vetted to avoid a repeat of the saga around Paine’s resignation.

“You can be sure that [as] part of that process we will be trying to make sure that those issues don’t exist,” Freudenstein responded when asked about the possibility of background checks.

“We’ve put in place a process for finding the next Australian captain that was going to take place over the summer in anticipation Tim would one day retire. We’re obviously accelerating that process. It’ll be a very thorough but brief process that will look at all the relevant criteria for a captain of the Australian cricket team. We will come to a conclusion [on] that with plenty of time before the Ashes.

“There are a range of candidates who are available for that role. Steve Smith is one of the candidates that is available for the role.”

Paine meanwhile has insisted he remains available for selection as a player, though concerns around his fitness and value without the captaincy have raised suggestions the Australia A keeper Alex Carey is in line to replace the Tasmanian veteran.

Paine’s bid to return from neck surgery via club cricket with University on Saturday – what would have been his first competitive hit-out in eight months – was thwarted by rain without a ball being bowled. The Australian selector George Bailey met with Paine at Hobart’s Queenborough Oval before play was called off, as both he and the deposed Australian captain declined approaches for comment by media.

Freudenstein said CA was “comfortable” with Paine continuing as a player, pending his form and fitness, but insisted positions of leadership had to be held to higher account.

“The captain of the Australian cricket team has to be held to a very high standard,” Freudenstein said. “Which is why I think it is absolutely appropriate that Tim has resigned the captaincy, which is in the best interest of Australian cricket. The board of Australian cricket is comfortable with his availability as a player.”