26 January 2021
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Australia coach Justin Langer backed captain Tim Paine and blasted
criticism towards batsman Steve Smith following the duo’s behaviour in the third
Test against India which ended in a draw on Sydney.

Paine’s captaincy has been questioned after he launched an ugly verbal
tirade at India’s Ravi Ashwin and Smith was accused of foul play after
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.”

Wicketkeeper Paine, guilty of dropping three catches on the final day, has
apologised and 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 expletives.

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 percent support.”

‘A bit quirky’

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.”

The fourth and final Test gets underway on Friday in Brisbane, with the
series locked at 1-1.

Abdul Gh Lone

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