'An absolute joke', Handscomb slams Paine captaincy critics

FILE PHOTO: Cricket - Ashes 2019 - Fifth Test - England v Australia - Kia Oval, London, Britain - September 15, 2019 Australia's Tim Paine hits a four Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Former test batsman Peter Handscomb leapt to the defence of Tim Paine on Thursday as the Australia captain came under fire in the wake of the series loss to India.

India's dramatic triumph in the fourth test at the Gabba on Tuesday led to a great deal of soul-searching in Australia and some of the country's army of pundits have turned the spotlight on Paine's leadership.

The 36-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman has led the test side since Steve Smith was sacked in the wake of the 2018 Newlands ball-tampering scandal and has said he would like to return to South Africa as captain next month.

"I can't believe the fallout from this test is his captaincy, that's just an absolute joke," Handscomb, who played his last test in 2019, told reporters on Thursday.

"The poor guy is batting beautifully, making some good runs, taking the game on and leading with that intent, which is really good to see.

"For it to come down to some perceived captaincy ideas is ridiculous. The whole team is there and everyone is trying to do their best ... it's a bit of a joke that the takeaway seems to be his captaincy."

Australia's next test assignment is scheduled to be a trip to South Africa in February and March, although the COVID-19 situation across the Indian Ocean has placed that three-match series in doubt.

Looming beyond that is the home series against England at the end of the year, when Australia will be defending the Ashes they retained in England in 2019.

With Cricket Australia apparently still reluctant to hand Smith any leadership positions, there is a shortage of credible alternatives to Paine as captain.

"I can't see any other options at the moment, which is part of Australia's problem," former skipper Ian Chappell told Channel Nine.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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