The search for a weakness in Ben Stokes' considerable armour is keeping Tim Paine awake at night. Such an admission is rare in cricket's often sanitised press conferences in which captains talk of focussing on their processes, execution of plans and whatever other bland sportspeak is in vogue. So it was intriguing to hear Paine, asked if he could be another Australian captain who floundered on an England allrounder, concede that, while his own position is of no concern, the question of how to deal with Stokes is causing considerable insomnia.
"Nah I haven't lost a hell of a lot of sleep thinking about my captaincy," Paine said on the eve of the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford. "But I have lost a bit of sleep thinking how we're going to get him out, that's for sure. He's a class player and he's really confident at the moment. He's going well."
It remains to be seen if Stokes' Headingley heroics become a series-winning contribution in the vein of Ian Botham or Andrew Flintoff, and Joe Root will undoubtedly be spending a similar portion of his waking hours pondering the best way to remove Steven Smith from the crease. But for Paine, at least, there were enough signs in the morning session on day four at Headingley that Nathan Lyon may provide the key to neutralising Stokes.
In the period before the new ball was introduced on the final day in Leeds, it seemed all but certain that Lyon would take Stokes' wicket, so often did he tease the outside edge of the bat with sharp turn and considerable bounce. It was only later, after Jonny Bairstow's arrival at the crease energised the run rate, that Stokes was able to dominate Lyon in brutal fashion.
"We've got some plans for him - but we've just got to execute them a bit better. As I said post [the Headingley] Test match, I think Nathan Lyon has actually bowled really well to him. He's created a number of chances each time he's bowled to him. We think as a fast bowling group, we can tweak things a little bit 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 Gaz [Lyon] 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."
Lyon's distress - he did miss the run-out that could have sealed it for Australia - at the conclusion of the third Test was painfully clear, as he dropped to the ground and had to be pulled up onto his feet by Paine before walking off, disconsolate, covering his face with his arm. In the aftermath of the match, Paine revealed he had encouraged the spinner to be an example to the other players and not allow the disappointment overwhelm him. At Old Trafford, Paine confirmed that Lyon has risen to the challenge.
"The instant disappointment was there for all of us to see after, on the field. But I think you go off the field for five minutes and sit down and put it all in perspective and realise that we are in the middle of an Ashes and he's a huge asset for us and I think he is ready to go. I would say he is really driven for these last two Test matches. He's found out a bit who his friends are in the last week and he's continued to prove people wrong, like he has his whole career."
A friendship that appears unlikely to form during this series is the one between Paine and Jofra Archer. The captain visibly bristled when Archer's recent comments about Australia panicking towards the end of the third Test were mentioned and the "choker" tag that has appeared in some media.
"No, and I've addressed it previously," said Paine, when asked if Australia had panicked or choked. "Jofra's entitled to his opinion, he's had plenty of those that's for sure. But 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, it happens in cricket, we've moved on and we're here ready for a great Test match."
The brusque manner of Paine's answer was sharp enough to invite further inquiries about whether or not Archer had touched a nerve or taken up residency under his skin.
"Not at all," said Paine. "Just that, as I said, 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. What's happened in the past has happened and Jofra is entitled to his opinion. As I said, it doesn't faze us one way or another."
It was a dismissive deflection and one that suggests Paine won't be losing any sleep over Archer's chat, unlike Stokes' elusive wicket.