The making of Paine and Finch as leaders

The origins of Australian cricket’s new on-field leaders can be traced back to college rooms in Brisbane, 12 years before crisis gripped the change rooms in Cape Town.

Skipper Tim Paine and vice-captain Aaron Finch have been tasked with winning fans back while winning games of cricket during this month’s ODI series against England, which starts in London on Wednesday.

It’s likely the two will be orchestrating the nation’s World Cup defence in the same country next year.

Their partnership is a byproduct of the small piece of sandpaper that plunged Cricket Australia (CA) into damage control in South Africa, prompting the governing body to ban Steve Smith and David Warner while striping them of leadership positions.

But it is not as if Paine and Finch were appointed without merit; they have plenty of experience and expertise.

Paine captained Australia at the 2004 under-19 World Cup, while Finch was vice-captain at the 2006 under-19 World Cup. Current chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns was involved in both decisions.

Hohns was also responsible for bringing them together as teammates for the first time, in 2006, when his panel picked that year’s academy squad.

Tim Nielsen was head academy coach at the time. He later went on to coach the national side and gave both Paine and Finch their first taste of international cricket.

“You learn very quickly who has got leadership talents and it’s just a matter of whether they can harness those talents,” Nielsen told AAP.

“Tim was always the smiling assassin in a way. The pretty boy who liked to look good, but was harder than nails underneath.

“That showed when he kept breaking his finger. He just kept fighting and working.

“He was such a competitor. He never took a backwards step.”

Nielsen recalls Paine and Finch being “different but also very similar”.

Finch was the baby of the group at age 19. Paine was 21.

Paine received a state rookie contract at age 16 and made his Sheffield Shield debut in 2005, while Finch was the only member of the squad yet to play first-class cricket.

“Painey did most of the physical things pretty naturally and Finchy wasn’t necessarily a natural athlete back then,” Nielsen said.

“But they were both very competitive, loved a bit of fun and enjoyed working hard.

“Two ripping lads and, whilst the circumstances aren’t ideal, it’s great for them to be thrown into these positions now and have an opportunity to lead their country.”

The academy program was a mix of training, matches, analysis and gym work, but the young guns were also encouraged to enjoy themselves and make the most of Queensland’s warm winter weather.

The squad was put up at Griffith University’s on-campus accommodation in suburban Brisbane; simple four-bedroom apartments with a communal lounge, bathroom and kitchen facilities.

There were semi-regular karaoke competitions and epic table tennis showdowns.

“I just remember it being great fun. We had a ball. We trained hard and probably partied a little bit too hard, as you do at that age,” Finch recalled.

“But we learned a lot and everyone in that academy intake stuck together really well. We were really close.”

That sort of camaraderie is exactly what Paine and Finch, who will captain the Twenty20 side later this month in England, are now trying to create with the help of new coach Justin Langer.

There is also a well-documented need for Paine and Finch to help rebuild the team’s reputation that, as the former put it, “took a bit of a battering”.

“That was really difficult for the players to come to terms with,” Paine said.

“Getting back into cricket is a great opportunity to move on and show the cricketing world where we have made some changes.”

“They’re not huge changes that we’re making, just some things that had started to slip.”

Finch is confident Paine will deliver on that front, describing the Tasmanian as a “very honest guy”.

“You always know where you stand with him,” Finch said.

“That’s going to be his greatest strength, along with obviously his cricket nous.

“He was always a leadership type of person at the academy, very vocal in team meetings and during games. He was always giving ideas and he’s a good guy to bounce ideas off as well.”

The external focus this month will be on how Australia behave.

But a five-match ODI series against world No.1 England beginning on Wednesday will also serve as an ideal dress rehearsal for the 2019 World Cup.

Paine has never played at the showpiece one-day tournament. Finch and Glenn Maxwell are the only members of the current touring party who were also part of the squad that lifted the trophy at the MCG.

“It’s an opportunity for guys to really start pushing and cementing their spot, and as a team really starting to build the style of game we want to play,” Finch said.

“Start to build something, hopefully pretty special over the next month, then keep on building towards the World Cup.”

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