Former Australia paceman Geoff Lawson believes Test captain Tim Paine is the man for the times in Australian cricket and could make the role his own with a bit of luck this summer.
Lawson was in Wagga on Friday as a special guest at the opening of a Museum of the Riverina exhibition honouring respected coach Warren Smith.
He said there’s no doubt suspended captain Stephen Smith and his deposed deputy David Warner will be back after their bans for ball tampering expire at the end of March. But there’s a lot of cricket to be played yet and Lawson thinks Paine can make the Test captaincy his own.
“Tim’s the right captain for now, for sure, because he’s always played the game in the right manner. He’s always been a tough competitor but very respectful of the game and the way it’s played. He’s done all the right things since he’s taken over,” Lawson said.
“He’s obviously an outstanding wicket-keeper. He’s got to make some runs to stay in the team in the long-term but if things go well for the summer, he could be the captain for some time to come.
“(Smith and Warner) will both come back because, let’s face it, they’re two of our best players going around. They've got a track record.
“Whether they’re back in leadership positions I reckon is doubtful, that’s why, as I say, Tim Paine might be a medium to long-term captain if he plays well and has success on the field.”
The ball tampering episode has sparked plenty of debate about the spirit in which the sport is played by Australian teams.
Lawson has a clear position on how to be competitive without overstepping ‘the line’.
“Use your skills to show how good you are, not your mouth,” he said.
“To me it’s that simple. Things have evolved over probably 20 years to get to where we got to and a reset was definitely necessary. But the solution’s a pretty simple one: let your game do the talking, don’t let your mouth do the talking.”
Lawson, who took 180 wickets in 46 Tests for Australia, said that message was instilled in him as a junior growing up playing for Lake Albert.
“Play competitively – I mean, you’ve got to play to win – that was a part of it. But you did play the right way. You had respect for the umpires, the groundsman, the opposition. You can play as hard as you like but you had to be respectful,” he said.
“My grounding in the game in Wagga was immense from that point of view. I just had so many terrific mentors.”
Smith was one of them. Lawson fondly recalled the coach, who owned the only bowling machine in southern NSW at the time, giving promising cricketers time even while he was repairing tyres at work on Fitzmaurice Street.
“We’d be hitting cricket balls when nobody else was even thinking about cricket,” Lawson said.
“It’d be three degrees outside and raining and Wazza would be fixing tyres and making sure the young kids were hitting cricket balls in the middle of winter… without him, that doesn’t happen.”
Still involved at the top level as a mentor and coach with NSW, Lawson said Smith’s influence on Test and first class cricketers has been phenomenal, not to mention the number of other young cricketers he’s guided in the game right down through to the grassroots level.
“It’s unbelievable, really. For one coach to influence three Test players and other first class players, like Greg Macleay… there’s a number of first class players from Wagga and most of those have had Wazza’s hand on their game somewhere,” he said.
“That’s remarkable. And that’s at that level but there’s also club level and just kids enjoying the game – he’s had an influence at every level of the game really, kids at school, in the park, and not many people can say that.”
- ‘Wazza: A local legend’ is on show at Museum of the Riverina's Historic Council Chambers site until 17 February, 2019