It is nine days since Ben Stokes hit a remarkable 135 not out to win the third test of the Ashes series at Headingley, and as he prepares for the next instalment, Australia captain Tim Paine said thoughts of how to outwit the England batsman keep him awake at night.
England were nine wickets down with 73 runs required before Stokes’ swashbuckling innings almost single-handedly kept England in the series and denied Australia a win that would have ensured the tourists retained the Ashes.
Questions have been asked of Paine’s decisions in the decisive final hours of that test. But asked whether he fears Stokes’ feat may hang over his captaincy in the way that all-rounders Ian Botham and Andrew Flintoff impacted previous Aussie skippers, Paine said his concern was more basic.
“Nah, 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 out, that’s for sure,” he said.
“He’s a class player, and he’s really confident at the moment. He’s going well. Like I said, we’ve got some plans for him - but we’ve just got to execute them a bit better,” he said.
Paine believed spinner Nathan Lyon has troubled Stokes at various times, but he has urged his fielders to provide better support than they did at Headingley.
“I think Nathan has actually bowled really well to him. He’s created a number of chances each time he’s bowled to him.
“But the other side of it is we hold our chances when Nathan is bowling to him. If we can do that, I think he can open the game up for us through that middle order. The last two tests in particular, we’ve let Nathan down a bit with our fielding,” he said.
Paine did however engage in some self-criticism about the way the last test got away from his side.
“We made some mistakes, it happens. We have addressed it as a team and spoken about it honestly. I was certainly one of those people who made mistakes. I would have done some things differently with my field placings,” he said.
“There were times, looking back at it, where it was obvious I should have had the field up and allowed Ben to hit a couple of boundaries so we had more balls at the tailender (Jack Leach).
“That’s the main thing I would have done differently. It happens in cricket and we have moved on, learnt from it, and we are ready for another great test match.”