Steve Smith injury reignites safety debate
Compulsory neck guards may be on the way for Australian players; Smith was not wearing one when he was hit.
Australian batsman Steve Smith’s withdrawal from the third Test in the ongoing Ashes series in England, after suffering a sickening blow on the neck from a bouncer from Jofra Archer, has reignited the debate about batsmen’s personal safety.
Smith was batting on 80 when he was hit, fell to the ground and lay for several minutes, before medics sent him off the ground. He came back to bat later, but was out for 92. He woke up the next day complaining of fatigue and headache, was diagnosed with concussion, and did not take the field on the fifth day.
Under a new ICC rule change, he was substituted by 12th man Marcus Labuschagne, becoming the first concussion substitute in a Test match.
The third Test starts on Thursday in Leeds, leaving Smith little time to prove he has recovered from a nasty knock to the neck. The 30-year-old believes he can.
“I’m hopeful I’ll be available for that Test match, but it’s certainly up to the medical staff and we’ll have conversations... It’s certainly an area of concern, concussion, and I want to be 100 per cent fit," Smith said on Sunday.
Smith’s injury has invited comparisons with Australian batsman Phil Hughes, who died in November 2014 at the age of 25, two days after he was similarly hit while playing in a domestic match.
The former Australian captain, who served a one-year suspension for ball tampering, was not wearing an attachment to the helmet which protects the neck… something that most batsmen favour today.
After Hughes’ death, an investigation recommended that specially designed neck guards, called StemGuards, be used when batting against pace bowling. But they were not made mandatory; Smith and some other batsmen preferred not to use them, as they said it made them feel uncomfortable and restricted. This looks set to change now.
Alex Kontouris, the sports medicine specialist of the Australian cricket team, has been quoted saying a lot of research had been done on protecting the neck area and there was now general agreement on what kind of guard was needed.
Helmet manufacturers have come up with the necessary additions to the helmet to protect the neck, which is a vulnerable area, he said. All that was required now were trials to validate the equipment changes.