Sleepless in Manchester, as Australian Tim Paine plots to overcome Ben Stokes and retain the Ashes

Steve Smith and Matthew Wade of Australia look on during the Australia nets session. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Steve Smith and Matthew Wade of Australia look on during the Australia nets session. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
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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 today, 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’s 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.”

Smith’s return has seen Usman Khawaja axed following Marnus Labuschagne’s impressive stand-in performances, while Mitchell Starc is expected to play.