Steve Smith felt groggy and like he’d had “six beers” the previous night on the morning of the final day’s play at Lord’s when he was ruled out of action after showing signs of concussion. Smith, who’d been struck on the neck and retired hurt on the fourth day’s play of the second Test, had originally cleared his tests and walked out to resume his innings famously. But Australia’s premier batsman, who’s set to make a comeback for the fourth Test in Manchester, said that he had felt a “little bit under the weather” and was in no position to take the field again on Day 5.
“When the doc asked me what did it feel like I said it felt like I had six beers last night and felt a little bit under the weather, without the six beers unfortunately. That was the sort of feeling I got, that groggy feeling and that stuck around for a couple of days. Not a nice place to be in but these things happen and unfortunately missed what was a pretty amazing Test match. I’m going well. Play the Derby game, get through that and pretty confident I’ll be right for the fourth Test match,” he said two days out from the tour match against Derbyshire.
The point of impact with Smith’s injury though had brought up terrible memories of a similar yet fatal blow the late Phillip Hughes had received on a similar part of the neck nearly five years ago. And Smith admitted that he had experienced similar thoughts soon upon being hit. “I had a few things running through my head, particularly where I got hit, just a bit of past came up if you know what I mean from a few years ago. That was probably the first thing I thought about then I was like ‘I’m OK here’ and I was alright. I was a little bit sad but I was alright mentally for the rest of that afternoon. I felt pretty good, passed all my tests and was able to go and bat and then it wasn’t until later that evening that it hit me,” he said.
There had been a lot of debate about whether Smith should have returned to bat at all on that fourth evening at Lord’s. He didn’t look to be at his ultimate best and also got out in very strange and untoward fashion – padding up to a full delivery from Chris Woakes while being stood in front of his stumps. Coach Justin Langer has come out and revealed twice now that he’d asked Smith about how he was doing on multiple occasions before agreeing to let him go out again. Smith believed that the semi-contentious decision on both his and the team management’s front was the right one.
“That’s a difficult question because as we’ve seen this series there’s been so many head knocks already. Marnus has been hit a few times, Jos got hit at one point, Stokesy’s been hit. If you’re ruling people out from just hits every now and again we won’t have a game. You’ve obviously got to take the advice of the doctor and how you’re feeling and at that point in time I was feeling fine. I wanted to go out like any other player would want to go out and try and help their team and you’ve got to take the advice of your medical staff. Had he told me that this isn’t the right thing to do then that’s fine, we cop that on the chin and you get on with things. But he was comfortable and I was comfortable and that was it, just move on and play,” he said.
The other major talking point that followed Smith’s concussion-inducing injury was his refusal to add stem guards to his helmet. Both Langer and captain Tim Paine had said the prolific batsman wasn’t comfortable batting in them. And that’s led to a lot of discussion around world cricket about whether stem guards, which came into the picture following Hughes’ unfortunate death, should become mandatory for all batsmen. Smith insisted that he still wasn’t comfortable wearing them, to the extent that his “heart rate” goes up whenever he’s tried using them. But he did admit that he will have no choice but to get used to them in case they become mandatory.
“I’ve tried them before, and I tried then the other day when I was batting and I reckon my heart rate went up about 30 or 40 straight away. I just feel claustrophobic. I compare it to being stuck in an MRI scan machine. It was different, but I think at some point they’re probably going to become mandatory so I’m going to have to get used to them. And I’m sure the more I wear them, the more I practice with them, my heart rate will come down and everything will be okay,” he said.
Smith though did not feel like the stem guard would have prevented him from being hit where he was on the neck by Archer. “Had I been wearing a stem guard in the game, I’m not sure that would have made a difference, the way my head sort of went back and where it hit me. Of course, you always want to have as much protection as possible and for me now it’s about trying it and trying to get used to it in the nets,” he said.
Smith is also getting used to spending long hours in the nets, which he loves to anyway and hasn’t been able to for the last 10 days, after having passed all the necessary tests required to make his comeback at Derby. He described it as a “slow process”, which included a brisk walk on the first morning of the third Test at Leeds followed by running.
“I did some running on the treadmill at about 11.5 km/h for four minutes, and was a little bit puffed after that. Then I did it the next day and was okay, so I progressed into some high-speed running and faced a few of the flickers, and then faced bowlers. So I’ve ticked all the boxes now, I feel good and I’m ready to play,” he said.