Not a pleasant exit: Tim Paine and the sexting scandal

November 21, 2021 4:00 AM

Australia Test cricket captain Tim Paine’s exit comes less than three weeks before the start of the Ashes

Australia's Tim Paine (File Photo: Reuters)Australia's Tim Paine (File Photo: Reuters)

By Abhishek Purohit

Tim Paine has become the second successive Australia captain to leave the room in tears, this time in the wake of a sexting scandal becoming public. The seeds of Paine’s eventual exit were seemingly sown around the same time he was surprisingly named Australia captain in March 2018, following the incumbent Steve Smith’s ban in the aftermath of the Cape Town Test ball-tampering controversy.

The same month, it turns out that a former Cricket Tasmania employee had made a sexual harassment complaint against Paine to the Tasmanian and Australian boards. The complaint pertained to text messages, including a photograph, which Paine and the woman had exchanged before the first Ashes Test in Brisbane in November 2017.

In subsequent correspondence with board officials in June 2018, the woman had said she was offended by “Mr Paine’s sexually explicit, unwelcome and unsolicited photograph of his genitals in addition to the graphic sexual comments.”

Cricket Tasmania stated that the allegations were brought to its attention only when formal charges of theft were laid against the woman following her termination.

The Tasmanian board had conducted an investigation, which “determined that no further action was required or appropriate” because “of the consensual nature of the actions.”

Incidentally, around the same time the Tasmanian board concluded thus, it also sacked another female employee after she had tweeted in favour of abortion policy reform. In her case, it was concluded that the “disparaging tone” of her tweets was “fundamentally inconsistent” with the board’s need to maintain a “positive and productive” relationship with the Tasmanian government.

Also around the same time, national coach Justin Langer was propounding his theory of “elite honesty”, while his partner in the grand project to clean up the Australian dressing room had just been the subject matter of a sexual harassment investigation, which was kept private until made public now by a Melbourne newspaper.

“You can lie to everyone else, but you can’t lie to yourself. So that’s elite honesty to yourself,” Langer had expounded. “And also, the Aussie way I know it is to look a bloke in the eye, look your sister or you mum in the eyes, and tell them the truth and be happy to get some truth back, so that’s elite honesty.”

While exonerating the Australian captain, Cricket Tasmania had made it clear that it “does not condone this type of behaviour and addressed the matter directly with Tim Paine.” Apart from this one noble line, there were absolutely no repercussions for skipper Paine for more than three years.

A parallel Cricket Australia Integrity Unit investigation had concluded that Paine had committed no breach of the board’s code of conduct. However, even the Australian board made it clear on Friday that it “does not condone this type of language or behaviour.”

There must be some woolly grey universe only CA is comfortable with, in which it can simultaneously not condone a particular conduct while also holding that the same conduct is not a violation of its code.

“While I cannot speak about the original decision-making in 2018, what I can say is that faced with the same circumstances and with the benefit of all the relevant information about this matter, Cricket Australia would not make the same decisions today,” CA chairman Richard Freudenstein said on Saturday. We’re all usually wiser in hindsight, sir, but perhaps this horse has already bolted.

How the entire affair reflects on the famous principle of elite honesty is best addressed by Langer, of course, but there is certainly a bit of elite confusion in how both state and national boards have handled the issue.

So neither board condones Paine’s behaviour, but the matter was kept private all along, and would have remained so forever in all likelihood, unless the media had not made it public. And forget any damaging consequences, there does not seem to have been even a formal reprimand for Paine.

If no need for any action was felt appropriate then, is Paine’s resignation as captain, and its immediate acceptance by CA, appropriate now? According to the man himself, this is the right decision as he did not want an “unwelcome disruption” for his team ahead of the Ashes. But his continuation as player and former captain in the same team may yet turn out to be more disruptive. According to CA, he still remains available for selection for the Ashes.

Paine has stated that his deeds from four years ago do not meet the standard required of an Australia captain. They surely did meet those standards enough to allow him to lead the side from March 2018 to November 2021. So his actions were apparently up to standard while they were private, but the bar would appear to have been raised higher the moment they ceased to be so.

In its media release on Friday, CA stated that Paine has been an “exceptional leader” despite the “mistake” he made. So much so that the pinned tweet on CA’s handle on Saturday still showed him as captain of the 15-man Australian Ashes squad.

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