Justin Langer has kept the door open on Tim Paine’s Test career, insisting he could still play for Australia again while also leading a staunch defence of the former captain’s character.
Speaking for the first time since Paine stood down as skipper, Langer labelled the Tasmanian “one of the best people” he has met in cricket.
He also argued that Paine had paid a heavy price for the sexting scandal, adamant that it was impossible for any human to not have made mistakes.
The Australia coach also confirmed he was made aware of an issue regarding Paine around the one-day tour of England in 2018, but insisted he did not know the details or that there had been an investigation until last month.
Langer made a quick visit to Paine this week in Hobart, admitting the wicketkeeper was “shattered” after also deciding to take an indefinite break from the game.
But with Paine set to turn 37 on the opening day of the first Ashes Test at the Gabba on Wednesday, Langer didn’t rule out the possibility of a return.
“He loves cricket. He absolutely loves cricket,” Langer said.
“And he’s 37. He is a fit as any athlete, certainly in our squad. He looks after himself so well. He’s very focused. So who knows.
“His No.1 priority at the moment is family, as you can imagine, and that’s how it should be.
“I’m not sure we’ve seen the end of him. But we’ll wait and see. That’ll be his decision.”
Langer on Saturday would not be drawn into Cricket Australia’s claims that the current board would have removed the captaincy from Paine in 2018 if they were in charge.
Regardless, any Paine return would seem unlikely given Brad Haddin is the only man to have kept wicket for Australia beyond his 37th birthday in the past 50 years.
Alex Carey has been handed the gloves in Paine’s absence, with the coach backing him after a long apprenticeship in the white-ball formats.
But Langer said his main priority was Paine’s welfare.
“He’s one of my really close friends and someone I admire enormously,” Langer said.
‘One of the best’
“In this generation of players that I didn’t play with, he is one of the best people I’ve met in the game of cricket.
“He’s been a captain for a long time. He and I have been through a journey like we have with all this group.
“He’s obviously shattered with what’s happened. Because he’s been such an exemplary figure in Australian cricket for the last four years.”
Langer meanwhile lamented the spotlight Paine had been put under.
“We live in a world of perfectionism, don’t we? We’re a very judgemental society,” Langer said.
“As I said at my very first press conference (after sandpaper-gate) … there’s not one person asking questions or watching this who hasn’t made a mistake in their life.
“There’s not a single person. And our captain, one of the best, made a mistake and is paying a heavy price for it.”