Tuesday 17 September 2019

Paine turns to Starc to exorcise Headingley ghosts

Australia's Mitchell Starc. Photo: Getty Images
Australia's Mitchell Starc. Photo: Getty Images

Nick Hoult

Ben Stokes has haunted the sleep of Australia captain Tim Paine as he frets over the problem of how to dismiss England's inspirational all-rounder.

Australia are expected to recall Mitchell Starc - the leading wicket-taker at the World Cup - today in an attempt to stop Stokes turning the Ashes into a rerun of Ian Botham's 1981 heroics. Stokes's 135 at Headingley levelled the series and turned this fourth Test at Old Trafford into a blockbuster.

The first four days were sold out months ago, but Lancashire experienced a huge spike in sales for day five following the Headingley victory, with 18,500 tickets snapped up by those desperate to grab a glimpse of this series.

England were not happy when they assessed the pitch yesterday. It has no live grass and is dry and cracked. It will suit Australia's pace attack and the ball is likely to reverse swing because the entire square is very dry and abrasive. That will help Jofra Archer, too, but England have just one genuine quick bowler as opposed to Australia's three. It is why England decided to leave out Chris Woakes and recall Craig Overton. The surface will help tall bowlers who hit the pitch hard and England were worried Woakes would be nullified by the lack of green grass, nip and seam.

Australia have been reluctant to gamble on Starc so far, fearing he will leak runs when they have identified disciplined line and length as the best way to limit England's stroke-makers. But Starc bowled one of the best deliveries of the World Cup when he dismissed Stokes with an inswinging yorker during the group game at Lord's.

Steve Smith prepared for his Test return by wearing the stem guards on his helmet that he has found uncomfortable and claustrophobic. Joe Root will inevitably call on Archer as soon as Smith comes in to bat, which will provide gripping sporting theatre.

Watching from square of the wicket, the perfect place to appreciate Archer's pace and bounce, will be 8,800 fans in Old Trafford's gigantic temporary stand. It has 71 rows, took 15 days to erect this summer and is the biggest temporary seating structure in Europe. While it will not win any awards for beauty, it does help create an amphitheatre at a ground where England have not lost a Test since 2001.


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