Steve Smith remains hopeful of playing in Thursday’s third Test at Headingley despite the delayed concussion diagnosis that led him to report headaches, dizziness and “feeling in a fog” among his symptoms.
Australia’s premier batsman became the first player substituted in a Test match under the ICC’s new concussion protocol after failing a cognitive test before the fifth morning here, with Marnus Labuschagne coming into the XI as his replacement.
Smith was struck on the neck by a Jofra Archer short ball on Saturday during a hostile spell from the England quick. That blow, which followed another to the arm, saw the 30-year-old retire hurt on 80 but resumed his innings 40 minutes later. Smith fell lbw for 92 offering no shot, having looked out of sorts during this second stint at the crease.
As well as confirming the concussion substitute, Cricket Australia went on the front foot regarding his brief resumption. It was stressed that Smith had passed three concussion tests in the aftermath of the incident – signed off by team doctor, Richard Saw – and he was therefore among the 30% of players who suffer a delayed reaction.
The ICC’s concussion regulations state a player must have medical clearance before returning to cricket. But while it lists the typical recovery time as seven days, they add that “this can vary from individual to individual”. There are four days between the second and third Tests.
Smith, who underwent a scan on Sunday, said: “I am hopeful that I will be available for that Test match but it is up to the medical staff. We will have conversations but it is certainly an area of concern, concussion, and I want to be 100% fit.
“I have to be able to train, probably a couple of days out, and then face fast bowling to make sure my reaction time and all that kind of stuff is in place. There are a few tests I have to tick off and time will tell.”
Cricket Australia’s statement was more downbeat on this, however, describing the short turnaround as “not in his favour”. In the application for the use of a concussion substitute, Smith’s symptoms were listed as “headache, dizziness, feeling slowed down, feeling in a fog, doesn’t feel right, drowsiness”.
As well as this, one element of his CogSport concussion test – a computer-based system that measures “motor function, reaction time, attention and memory” – was listed as “below baseline”. All players perform this testing out of season when clear of concussion, with the results used then used as the control.
Archer, who inflicted the blow during an eight-over spell that at one stage included 16 successive deliveries in excess of 90mph, spoke before play on Sunday to outline his concern for Smith at the time.
He told BBC Test Match Special: “That is never the plan [to hit a batsman]. You are trying to get a wicket first. To see him go down, everyone stopped and everyone’s heart skipped a beat. After he got up he was moving around and you breathe a sigh of relief. No one wants to see anyone getting carried off on a stretcher. It was a good challenge, a really good spell. I wouldn’t like to see it end like that.”
Speaking to Sky Sports he said: “[The spell] was a bit exciting. I was telling the guys I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get out on his own accord till [Saturday]. I just tried to get him rattled.”
The incident brought back memories of Philip Hughes, who died in 2014 after a bouncer struck him behind the ear during a Sheffield Shield game. Since then the use of StemGuards – additional protection for the upper neck that clips on to the helmet – has become prevalent, although Smith has always declined one.
Smith said: “Along with a few of the other players in the team I find [the StemGuard] a little bit uncomfortable – a bit claustrophobic. It is certainly something I need to have a look at and perhaps try in the nets and see if I can find a way to get comfortable with it.”
This decision may yet be enforced. From the 2019-20 season all helmet sales in Australia must include a StemGuard as standard, while it is understood that Cricket Australia are now considering making their use mandatory.