Paine’s leadership has been integral to Australia’s rise but ‘keeper in waiting Alex Carey is mounting a compelling case for a Test debut with two centuries in the Sheffield Shield this season.
Alternative captains are also emerging with Smith’s leadership ban to end in March and star paceman Cummins expressing more interest in taking over if offered the role.
Paine, however, retains the backing of selectors and the board with Cricket Australia having said there is no formal succession plan in place. While Australia keeps on winning, the Tasmanian will be extremely difficult to dislodge.
Gilchrist is an advocate of Paine but said at his age – he turned 35 on Sunday – he is a “summer-by-summer” proposition. The wicketkeeping great likened the competition from Carey to that Gilchrist faced from Brad Haddin in the late 2000s.
“It’s almost like deja vu – not for him, but for me – when you’ve got a guy like Alex Carey nipping at his heels,” Gilchrist said. “He’s starting to show some really promising signs of consistency now in his Sheffield Shield cricket.
“With his overall game and where the attention gets drawn to is his run-scoring. His wicketkeeping seems to be extremely consistent, as is Tim Paine’s.
“But Carey is now starting to really accumulate important runs in first-class cricket, so that is going to really put pressure on him.
“If he is playing next summer, Tim Paine should be captain of the Australian cricket team. But we will have to see at the end of the summer if he is still in there – whether it’s his own personal judgment or the selectors.”
Paine is averaging only 20 this year but claims he is judged primarily on his glove work and leadership than his output with the bat. He has not put an end date on his career.
“It’s a great environment to be playing cricket in our set up at the moment and I’m enjoying every minute of it and will continue to do so for as long as I can,” Paine said.
The recent improvement by Australia’s top six has taken the pressure off him to score runs at seven though it’s likely his batting will be tested by the Kiwis’ high-class attack in the coming weeks.
“The only time the attention is drawn to him is if someone else is breathing down his neck that they may be able to add value,” Gilchrist said. “That’s where the pressure comes on. That’s starting to shape up and be the case with Carey.”
Gilchrist said Australia, ranked fifth in the world, were becoming “one of the strongest teams in world cricket”.
“All the pieces of the puzzle seem to be falling into place,” Gilchrist said. “This Australian team has the foundation now to really form a successful era.”
Andrew Wu writes on cricket and AFL for The Sydney Morning Herald