By Daniel Brettig and Andrew Wu
Former Australian Test captain Tim Paine.Credit:Getty Images
“One of our big things moving forward is making Australians proud again, and not just proud of our on-field performances but our off-field performances as well. We’re Test cricketers 24/7, not just on the field.”
These words were spoken at a press conference by the Australian fast bowler Josh Hazlewood at the release of a cultural review into Australian cricket following the ball tampering scandal of 2018. It was October 29, and the national team’s captain, Tim Paine, was sitting alongside Hazlewood.
Three years and three weeks later, Paine is gone, having not only resigned the captaincy but dropped out of the game indefinitely on mental health grounds due to the revelation of things he did off the field and the resultant effect on him and his family.
Tim Paine and Josh Hazlewood front the media on the day the Cricket Australia culture review was released, October 2018.Credit:Justin McManus
His deputy, Pat Cummins, 28, is now the 47th men’s Test captain of Australia (with Steve Smith as his deputy), and describing as “daunting” the fact that each of his two predecessors resigned the office in tears. Cummins, articulate as ever, asked only that he be held to reasonable standards of conduct, on and off the field.
These two seismic events in Australian cricket are linked. Within an hour of Paine appearing at that 2018 press conference, an email lobbed in the now-dormant account of the former chief executive James Sutherland, who had finished at Cricket Australia on October 26.
It was a lengthy letter from the former Cricket Tasmania staffer embroiled in a dispute with her former employer, including reiterations of a claim against Paine, that CA and CT thought they had dealt with via parallel integrity investigations five months earlier, in May. Investigations that did not, however, include the co-operation of the staffer.
Paine’s tearful resignation as captain a week ago was, in his view, an unavoidable consequence of the publication of explicit text exchanges with a former Cricket Tasmania staffer in November 2017, the very day he returned to Test cricket after a seven-year absence. But the episode was just part of a wider dispute between the staffer and Cricket Tasmania, that is now to play out in court early next year.
In her October 2018 correspondence, the staffer did not shy away from the fact there was an ongoing legal battle between her and CT over allegations of theft – claims that she denied – but she wished to make it clear that her concerns about Paine’s conduct, and the sending of an unsolicited “dick pic”, were part of a wider pattern of behaviour she had experienced in her time with the state association. She named Shannon Tubb, who had left CT earlier in the year in a confidential settlement, as reportedly being another sender of explicit text messages.
Also outlined was a failed attempt at conciliation between her and CT that had taken place earlier in October, and efforts to keep the matter private rather than public. As CA dealt in parallel with the very public fallout from the review of the culture review, culminating in the resignation of the then chair of the board, David Peever, on November 1, the email bounced around the governing body’s internal channels.
Eventually, on Monday, November 12, CA’s head of legal, Christine Harman, replied briefly. She indicated that as the former staffer’s complaints were “regarding two employees at CT”, and that the dispute was with the state association, it did not “seem appropriate” for CA to intervene.
It was an invidious situation for CA in a constitutional sense. While the state associations are widely considered by the general public to be subsidiaries of the central governing body, the reverse is, in fact, true. CA was first formed, and remains constituted, as a collective of the six state associations. That means CT is, in fact, a joint owner of CA – not exactly an arrangement that would allow the central body to intervene.
The day before, the Australian men’s limited overs team had completed a series in which they were roundly defeated by South Africa, underlining the pressure being brought to bear at all levels of the game – whether on or off the field.
The former staffer’s reply indicated that, having received no aid from CA, she was compelled to consider taking the matter to the media – specifically mentioning A Current Affair. That conclusion was followed up in the next round of correspondence on December 7, when a request was made for an apology, and a payment of $40,000 to cover the former staffer’s legal fees. “I’m aware,” she wrote in part, “that cricket would like me to go away.“
December 7 happened to be day two of the first Test of that summer’s series against India. While the backroom correspondence continued, the national team stumbled to 7-191 in reply to India’s first innings of 250, on the way to a narrow defeat that would help set-up a first ever win in Australia’s for Virat Kohli’s team.
A few weeks later, and as the Boxing Day Test was in full swing, the former staffer came close to meeting with ACA to tell her story. On reflection, noting the personal toll such a move would take on her life and family, the staffer chose to withdraw from the meeting, and any decision to publicise the dispute with CT and CA.
The Test match was another low point for Australia that summer, both on and off the field. India won by a wide margin, while the week’s public interest oxygen was taken up by a Steve Smith press conference in Sydney press on December 22 before he took a sojourn to the United States, and then an interview from Cameron Bancroft – with the commentator Adam Gilchrist – during lunch on day one of the game.
There was one more round of this hidden dialogue to take place during the Test summer. Through her legal counsel at the time, the former staffer had contacted Sean Mulcahy, a former journalist, producer and agent with long-term relationships in cricket. He knew, for instance, Paine’s manager James Henderson.
Mulcahy, having established that the staffer no longer wanted to take the story public through the media, instead set up a meeting with two representatives of CA in a Crow’s Nest Cafe prior to the final Test against India at the SCG.
At that meeting, Mulcahy handed over printed copies of the full text and picture message history between the staffer and Paine. They detailed how, beginning in early 2017, a largely practical, procedural exchange based on Paine’s reviving international career and the staffer’s role as the CT receptionist, had turned another way in November of that year. Playful flirting suddenly moved in a much more explicit direction.
Those exchanges were left in the possession of CA and taken back to the governing body’s Melbourne headquarters. The staffer, meanwhile, appeared to settle on the conclusion that though she was still in need of resolution to the issues with CT, she would not make the matter public: she didn’t want to do it to Paine, she didn’t want to do it to herself.
Paine, meanwhile, had accepted the fault in his behaviour, worked through it with his wife Bonnie, and went on to lead Australia’s Test side for another three years. He has related to the Herald Sun that he always suspected it would ultimately get out.
“I thought the issue was dealt with, but it always popped up around a big series, or at the start of the cricket season,” he said. “Over the last three years, there have been numerous times where media agencies have put to us that they had evidence, yet they never chose to write it.
“As to why, I’m not sure, but nobody else had chosen to write the story, but I knew it was going to come out at some point, as much as I didn’t want it to.”
Fast forward to November 2021, and the eve of an Ashes series. The story, in all its explicit detail, comes to light, and a devastated Paine feels no other option but to resign the office of Australia’s captaincy. That devastation, privately, was also felt by the former staffer who, like Paine, had considered publication to be an option she was no longer taking.
As Mulcahy stated this week: “It was always my understanding that she never wanted this matter to become public. She turned down the possibility of a big pay day to tell the story, yet she chose to stay quiet. I don’t believe she is the source of this story now being made public.“
A criminal case in the Tasmanian Magistrates Court, going into the details of the theft allegations by CT against the staffer, is set to go ahead in January next year. She is pleading not guilty.
Nick Cummins, who was chief executive of Cricket Tasmania at the time and has now moved on to the equivalent role with Cricket Victoria, has denied the state association did the wrong thing by the former staffer. On Friday, the former staffer lodged a fresh sexual harassment claim against Cricket Tasmania with the Federal Court. The 17-page document formed an originating application through the Australian Human Rights Commission Act. In it, the staffer mentions a third CT employee in addition to Paine and Tubb.
“I would broadly say, and this applies to Tim, we at CT, CV, CA, we’re a business, we’re a professional environment, that kind of behaviour isn’t acceptable,” Cummins told SEN. “We found it was consensual, that behaviour, it’s still not acceptable. If you want to do that in your personal life you can, but if you’re doing it with a work colleague it is still regarded as work. We’ve got to hold ourselves to standards and operate as professionals, but, no, we did not fail that employee.”
Paine was already out of the Ashes series, having elected to take an extended mental health break after the tumult of the preceding week. It is now unlikely that he will ever play international cricket again, having always been expected to retire at the end of this summer.
The rest of Australia’s players, including the next captain, were left feeling very much like Hazlewood had put it back in October 2018: “We’re Test cricketers 24/7, not just on the field.”
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