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.
“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.
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.
“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.