Paine train's uncertain final destination

Justin Langer and Tim Paine celebrate after Australia claim victory Getty Images

It's nothing new for Australia's Ashes winning captains to receive garlands from the highest office in the land, and in the wake of Old Trafford, Tim Paine joined the club. "I got a text from the prime minister which was very exciting, a first for me," he said.

"He was pretty pumped. Along the same lines of messages we got from a lot of people back home in Australia - congratulations, everyone's proud of us, Steve Smith's a legend and make sure you finish it off this week. All the boys have had a lot of messages from home and a lot of support from back home. You can really feel that through the boys' social media and stuff that's coming into Cricket Australia. We've been loving the support we've been getting back home and we're really thankful for it."

One thing Scott Morrison and Paine do have genuinely in common is no great degree of certainty about how long their tenure might last. For Paine, who was all but retired from the game in 2017, this whole phase of his career feels like a bonus. Asked whether he could carry Australia's leadership through to the end of the World Test Championship in mid-2021, by which time he will be 36, he baulked.

"I don't know about that. I haven't thought about it to be honest," Paine said. "I haven't thought much past this Test match, as I've said in the last 18 months, I think it's foolish at my age if you do. I'm just taking each day as it comes, as boring as that is. I'm enjoying what I'm doing and whilst I can continue to contribute in some way I'll continue to do it. I constantly talk to JL (Justin Langer) and Trevor Hohns about what might happen or how long I might go for, but I think we're all comfortable and we're all on the same page so it's all good.

"I'm loving doing what I'm doing and I think while you've got a job that you love you'll try and do it for as long as you can. I did miss a lot in, I suppose, the prime years of my cricket career. The positive of that now is that physically I'm in really good condition for my age, and feel really good after Test matches physically. Mentally, it's a different story but it only takes a day to recover from that. While I keep enjoying it, I'll keep doing it.

"I wouldn't say I'm overly fresh, but I'm lucky that I get to concentrate on one format of the game so that certainly helps me. We've got guys, and England have got guys that play all three formats going 12 months of the year and that's bloody difficult. For me to be able to specialise and put all my energy into that, and then be able to use my energy to keep guys like David [Warner] and Steve, and [Josh] Hazlewood and [Pat] Cummins, the guys that are playing all year round, for me to be able to energise them and energise the Test group is something that's working for us."

"I've got full confidence in David Warner that when he does click into gear he's going to win us a Test match and I think it's going to be this one" Tim Paine

Helping Paine to feel confident about his role is the fact that there is a strong sense of certainty within the team and from senior voices at its periphery that he is a specialist wicketkeeper and captain first, a batsman second. That message was driven home by Langer, Hohns and the former gloveman Ian Healy before Manchester, helping Paine contribute his best game of the series with the bat.

"It's always nice to contribute with the bat. I've been given pretty clear instructions from our selectors and our coach on what my role is," Paine said. "I think it's probably started to free me up a little bit, and JL has always said to me 'mate, whatever runs you can get, it's a bonus - we want you to be the best wicketkeeper in the world and the best captain you can be of this group'. They're the two most important parts of my job, and obviously they want me contributing with the bat, so to contribute last game was great. I look forward to doing it a few more times.

"[Healy] just said, and he was probably right, in the Test match at Headingley we got so close to retaining the Ashes that I probably just tried a little bit hard. And traditionally with me, when I try too hard, particularly with batting, it gets worse and worse. His message was to go out and bat like a wicketkeeper, and I think that's when I play my best - when I'm looking to score, getting in the contest and just watching the ball rather than thinking too much about it technically because it certainly hasn't worked for me over the journey.

"I was just happy to contribute, and we're lucky in Australian cricket for someone like Ian Healy just to be able to reach out and come and spend an hour with you as we have with Ricky [Ponting], Steve Waugh, Glenn McGrath and some other guys - it's been great for our group. And after this game I got a text from [Ponting] as well just saying 'bloody happy for you, and really proud of you'. We're thrilled as a group that we've been able to make people like him and Steve and Glenn proud of the way we're paying our cricket."

The two main queries around the Australian team for The Oval centre upon Warner, dominated by Stuart Broad this series, and Cummins, who has been the best of Australia's fast bowlers but the only to play every match. A workload of 48 overs at Old Trafford puts him very close to the "must rest" zone in order to prevent the likelihood of injury. A refreshed Peter Siddle and James Pattinson wait in hope on the substitutes bench.

"Pat's someone we're looking at what's the best option for him and the team," Paine said. "He's certainly one of those people there's no doubt about that, he's had a huge workload, he's very, very keen to play and we're keen to have him play. We'll see how it plays out but like all our fast bowlers, same with James Pattinson, we've said we want to keep these guys playing cricket for Australia for as long as we possibly can and we're lucky at the moment we've got five or six really exciting pace bowlers so we can afford to mix and match to the conditions that we get.

"There's always pressure on David Warner, everywhere you go he's a cricketer that opposition teams want to get out and want to get on top of. He's a really important part of our team. He hasn't had the series he would've liked but two hits ago he got 60-odd in the toughest conditions at Headingley. I've got full confidence in David that when he does click into gear he's going to win us a Test match and I think it's going to be this one.

"It hasn't gone away. It's always been there. He's tempered it a little bit. But what I love about David is regardless of whether he's been scoring runs, he's exactly the same, he's really consistent around the group. He's the same competitive person on the field. When we're in the field he's not the type of bloke who, if he doesn't get any runs, he shuts up shop and gives the team nothing. He's still been putting pressure on opposition teams with the way he is in the field. And we love playing with him when he's like that. Hopefully he gets a couple of big scores this week."

As for how to ensure there is not a let down after Manchester, Paine returned to a familiar message for the tour. "We don't have to talk about it because we came here to win the Ashes. We didn't come here to retain them," he said. "It's nice that we have retained them already going into this Test match but one of the reasons we're waiting on making a call on our team and the best makeup of it and what's right for the players is because we see this as one of the biggest Test matches we're going to play.

"We want to be here at the end of this Test as a winning team that's won the Test match, won the series and hold that urn up rather than let it peter out to a draw or a loss. It won't be the same for us. This Test match is huge. There's also the Test Championship now which is really important. There's no such thing as dead rubbers and certainly against England there's never a dead rubber. We're up for it. We're ready to go."

And should Australia win, there may be a return call to the prime minister: "I've got his number now… I'm going to save it and I might ring him if we win this one."