Tim Paine seeks keys to consistency in wake of rare victory

Good sporting teams, it is said, know how to respond to defeat. Great ones, however, become masters of maintaining their hunger and rage in the aftermath of victory. Australia’s national team right now is a long way from becoming a great or even a good team, and their sole experience of playing in the wake of winning this season was far from a happy one.
Stung by memories of a flat performance in the Boxing Day Test after levelling the series against India in Perth, Australia’s captain Tim Paine has counselled his team to be at their most vigilant against Sri Lanka, in the inaugural Test match to be played at Canberra’s Manuka Oval.
Widely lauded for a lively defeat of Virat Kohli’s team at the new Perth Stadium, the Australians reconvened in Melbourne with heavy legs and minds, turning in a lethargic performance in the field that was to be compounded by an alarming lack of application with the bat. While Dinesh Chandimal’s side represent nowhere near the same level of challenge, Paine was adamant in stressing the need for his men to learn to take the right approach into what is their final Test before the Ashes in England, more than six months from now.
“We’ve spoken a little bit about our attitude, the way we turn up for our two training sessions here and tomorrow morning,” Paine said. “We touched on how we had a great win in Perth against India and then I thought we turned up pretty poorly and really flat in Melbourne and started that Test match pretty ordinarily. But then you get a good side like India in front of you and we really couldn’t reel them back in.
“It’s just been making sure our attitude to this Test is spot on and we’re leaving nothing to chance. If we do that, start as well as we can tomorrow and put Sri Lanka on the back foot where we finished in Brisbane. That’s been the message. A lot can change in six months but performances this summer will be taken into account, every Test match you play is really important, this one because we want to win the series, we haven’t won a series for a while.
“Going forward we want to start building some momentum and having some guys that are performing around this group. Having said that there is plenty of opportunity for guys a the back end of the season for pressing their claims with the Dukes balls with a big series coming up, it will count toward that but it is not the be all and end all.”
The inconsistency of Paine’s team, summed up by the lack of even a single century from any of the batsmen over six Tests dating back to Dubai in October, has been maddening for the coach Justin Langer, familiar as he is with Australia’s era of vast and sustained success in the 1990s and 2000s. Geoff Lawson, the noted coach and commentator, once summed up Australia’s greatness during this period as follows:
“It’s easy to say ‘well we won last week or last year’ and not play your best, but that Australian team just did that to the nth degree, and that’s what made them so hard to beat. Even when they were starting to decline with great players going out and not so great players coming in, they were still tough to beat because they had the right attitude.
“It didn’t matter who their captain was, who their coach was. I guess it’s what people refer to as culture, but culture is behaviour, you’ve got to behave, and as an observer, it didn’t matter which country, where or when, they’d be there early doing their thing. If I was in the opposition and I looked over at Australia warming up I’d think ‘ah, ok, they’re serious today’. There’s nothing flippant about what Australia did. They weren’t a laughing matter.”
Finding a way back to that level of mental strength and consistency continues to be chief among Langer’s challenges, as summed up by the flickering performances of two senior players in Mitchell Starc and Usman Khawaja. Neither have been able to provide the sort of leadership by performance that has been desperately needed in the absence of the banned Steven Smith and David Warner, but both have chances in Canberra to excel in their customary positions – Khawaja at No. 3, and Starc with the new ball, which will again be denied to Pat Cummins.