Australia captain Tim Paine admits he has “lost a bit of sleep” pondering what to do about England’s hero of Headingley, Ben Stokes.
The fourth Ashes Test begins at Emirates Old Trafford on Wednesday, with the series still alive almost entirely because of Stokes.
The Durham all-rounder’s 135 not out, 74 of which were scored in a transformative last-wicket stand with Jack Leach, has already entered the annals of all-time great Test innings and has been occupying Paine’s mind ever since.
Asked if he feared for his future as captain should England complete their comeback and win the series, he said: “No, I haven’t lost a hell of a lot of sleep thinking about my captaincy but I have lost a bit of sleep thinking how we’re going to get him (Stokes) out, that’s for sure.
“He’s a class player and he’s really confident at the moment. He’s going well. We’ve got some plans for him but we’ve just got to execute them a bit better.”
Only Steve Smith has scored more runs in the series than Stokes, 378 versus 327 with a pair of centuries each, and he did not even take the field in Leeds.
That was, of course, due to a concussion dished up by a 92mph bouncer from Jofra Archer and the mention of the pace bowler’s name appeared to chip away at Paine’s usually calm demeanour.
Archer claimed last week the opposition “panicked” during Stokes’ onslaught, words that seem to have struck a nerve.
“Jofra’s entitled to his opinion, he’s had plenty of those that’s for sure,” said Paine.
“I was told a few things when I was down in Derby – I haven’t actually seen the quotes – but, yeah, talk is talk and we are here to play this Test match.
“We made some mistakes, it happens. We’ve addressed it as a team, we’ve spoken about it honestly. I was certainly one of those people who made mistakes. But what’s happened in the past has happened and Jofra is entitled to his opinion. It doesn’t faze us one way or another.”
Smith’s return has forced a tough decision from the touring selectors, with Usman Khawaja axed following Marnus Labuschagne’s impressive stand-in performances.
The 32-year-old is seen as a potential heir to Paine as Baggy Green captain and his omission for such a big game cannot have been taken lightly.
“Usman’s obviously a key player in our side batting at number three but he hasn’t scored the runs that he or we would like,” explained Paine.
“So with Steve Smith coming back it was a tough decision to make on Usman, but we think he’s still got a lot of cricket left in him, he’s had a very good Test record over his career, and we expect he will bounce back pretty strongly.”
Mitchell Starc is expected to make his first appearance of the series, edging out Peter Siddle in the XI.
Provided by Press Association Sports
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