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Tim Paine has come too far since Sandpapergate to stuff it up now

The South African’s reply to the then-rotund Victorian is legendary.

“Looks like you’ve spent it eating,” Cullinan retorted.

Got him! Yes!

What people forget about that exchange was that Warne was too smart to fire back with his mouth. Instead, eight balls later, he dismissed Cullinan for a duck. The South African didn’t play another Test that series.

Alas, Paine wasn’t smart enough to know when he was beaten, nor skilful enough to conjure a dismissal, while engaging in some lame tongue-fu with India’s Ravi Ashwin in the final session of the SCG Test on Monday afternoon.

Paine: “I can’t wait to get you to the Gabba, Ash, tell you what.”

Ashwin: “Just like we want to get you to India. It would be your last series.”

Instead of laughing it off and concentrating on, say, catching, Paine panicked.

“Maybe … are you a selector here as well? At least my teammates like me, d—head.”

Got him? No!

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All that was needed was a “ner-ner-na-ner-ner” from Matthew Wade, who seemed to be in the same petulant mood as Paine. The intimidation backfired as Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari held on against the odds to save a famous draw from a match that seemed like a certain Australian victory from the moment they won the toss.

This was the first time Paine has genuinely wilted under pressure since taking over from Steve Smith as captain following Sandpapergate and it was disappointing.

On the watch of Paine and coach Justin Langer, Australia have won more Tests than they’ve lost, were briefly the top-ranked country in the world, retained the Ashes on English soil and, more importantly, regained the trust of a furious Australian public.

India, though, have slowly worked their way under the Australians’ skin in this series – which is remarkable considering they were dismissed for 36 in Adelaide only three weeks ago.

Paine was showing it before the Sydney Test, bristling at India’s apparent reluctance to play the fourth Test at the foreboding Gabbatoir.

Then he detonated at umpire Paul Wilson, an Australian umpire he has known for years, demanding some “f—ing consistency” with the problematic Decision Review System. He was subsequently fined 15 percent of his match fee.

On the final day, he dropped three catches and rumbled with Ashwin, but perhaps more tellingly failed to come up with a plan to win the Test.

There was a distinct sameness to the way Australia bowled: too much short stuff, not enough spin, and while a sedate SCG pitch and Nathan Lyon and Mitchell Starc’s lack of form can be offered up as mitigating factors, the Australians appeared more interested in bullying instead of bowling their way to victory.

Aware of the damage done, Paine called a snap media conference on Tuesday morning to apologise for his behaviour. But it wasn’t enough to stop the pile-on from around the world.

Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar called for Paine to be sacked while a conga line of former England players has bravely unleashed on Twitter.

In a radio interview, former England paceman Darren Gough accused Smith of “plain cheating” for scuffing away Rishabh Pant’s guard marks during a break in play.

Steve Smith scuffs the pitch, obscuring Rishabh Pant's guard mark.

Steve Smith scuffs the pitch, obscuring Rishabh Pant’s guard mark.

Paine defended Smith, insisting he was shadow batting, which is an entirely plausible excuse given the former skipper’s fidgety eccentricities. Others suggest Smith hasn’t learned anything from his year-long exile from the game because of what happened in Cape Town three years ago.

This is the lingering price Australia will have to pay because of the ball-tampering controversy: the constant accusations of impropriety whenever any player steps out of line or even appears to do so. Smith, more than anyone, should be aware of this given the price he’s paid.

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But calling for Paine’s head is silly. There’s also limited options to replace him, as both captain and gloveman, although at the age of 36 his final Test is closer than Ashwin has predicted.

Has the day-five meltdown already cost Australia the Border-Gavaskar Trophy? No way.

Paine was heavily criticised for his field placements and wasted DRS calls in the infamous Headingley Test of the 2019 Ashes series as Ben Stokes blasted England to victory.

In the dressing-room soon afterwards, Paine gathered his players together and started swearing like an angry wharfie.

“I just want to say, f— that’s going to f—ing hurt a lot, no doubt, for the next couple of days,” Paine said. “We’ve still got two Test matches. So let this f—ing thing sting. We had our chances to win that game and we f—ed it up. Shit happens. We can talk about that another time. Let’s take time, stick together … it’s not game over, it’s not toys out of the cot, it’s a game of cricket.

Thankfully, there were no stump mics around, although the exchange was revealed in Amazon Prime’s eight-part documentary The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team.

The SCG Test was an aberration and a worrying reminder of the way the ugly Australian cricketer used to be. But the new era of this side is still not over.

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