Australia coach Justin Langer gave under-fire skipper Tim Paine his full support and blasted criticism of Steve Smith as “absolute rubbish” on Wednesday after a backlash against the pair’s behaviour in the drawn third Test against India in Sydney.
Paine’s captaincy has been questioned after he launched a verbal tirade at India’s Ashwin Ravichandran and Smith came under fire from some quarters for appearing to scuff up batsman Rishabh Pant’s guard at the crease during a tense final day.
But an indignant Langer was having none of it.
“Do I have faith in Tim Paine? You have no idea how much faith I have in Tim Paine,” he said.
“He didn’t have his best day, no doubt about that, but after three years he has hardly put a hair out of place. He has been outstanding as the Australian captain in everything he does. He had a frustrating day and we have got to cut him some slack, surely.”
With an unscheduled press conference on Tuesday, wicketkeeper Paine, who dropped three catches on the final day, had apologised. The skipper admitted frustration got the better of him when he tried to unsettle Ashwin, who held out for more than three hours for an unbeaten 39 as the tourists salvaged a draw.
Stump microphones picked up Paine making a series of barbs, including calling Ashwin a “dickhead”.
Paine had already been fined for dissent after an expletive-laden rant at umpire Paul Wilson on day two, with the incidents undermining Langer’s drive to revamp the team’s toxic culture after the “Sandpaper-gate” ball-tampering scandal in 2018.
While backing Paine to continue as captain “for some time yet”, Langer also acknowledged criticism would come if anyone deviated from the high standards the team now set themselves.
“When you set a standard as high as he does, and we do, we understand we get criticised when you fall below that. It’s not what we are about,” he said.
“But Tim is an outstanding leader and will continue to be for some time to come yet. He has my 100% support.”
‘A bit quirky’
During the final day footage of Smith, who was Australia’s captain during the sandpaper scandal and banned for year, suggested he deliberately interfered with Pant’s batting guard – a mark made at the crease to know where your feet are in relation to the wicket behind you.
The number four is renowned for his quirks, including shadow-batting while fielding, and strongly denied doing anything wrong.
“As for Steve Smith, I literally cannot believe some of the rubbish I’ve read – absolute load of rubbish,” said Langer.
“I mean, anyone who knows Steve Smith, he is a bit quirky... and we have all laughed about it for the last couple of years.
“What Steve Smith does at the crease he does it probably most games, he’s just thinking about the game. Anyone who suggests for one millisecond he was trying to do something untoward, they’re way out of line.
“On that wicket, that was that flat, and it was like concrete, you’d need 15-inch spikes to make an indent on the crease and he went nowhere near the crease,” Langer added.
“So seriously, I thought that was absolutely ludicrous.”
Langer said that the management expects young opener Will Pucovski to be fit for the fourth match.
“With shoulders, as long as he can bat OK and catch - it’s not as big a deal in Test cricket ... we’re really hopeful he will get up. If he doesn’t then the obvious thing is Marcus Harris would come in as the opener,” he added as per cricket.com.au.
The fourth and final Test gets underway on Friday in Brisbane, with the series locked at 1-1.
(With AFP inputs)
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