Australia‘s head coach Justin Langer has told his bowlers not to let their egos draw them into a battle of the bouncers against England at Headingley, after Steve Smith was ruled out of the third Ashes Test with concussion.
Smith has been undergoing constant medical assessments since showing delayed symptoms the day after being hit in the neck by a 92mph Jofra Archer delivery at Lord’s, and has been told his recovery plan will not allow him to be involved when the contest resumes on Thursday.
Archer’s pace and hostility on debut lit a fuse under the series, which the tourists lead 1-0, as the 24-year-old also struck Matthew Wade and Marnus Labuschagne on the helmet and routinely bowled well above 90mph.
Australia have been no shrinking violets in terms of using speed as a weapon in the past and, with Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc all well capable of bowling quickly they could easily attempt to fight fire with fire.
Langer, though, wants a dispassionate display.
“We know what our plans are to beat England. What we’re not going to do is get caught up an an emotional battle of who’s going to bowl the quickest bouncers,” he said.
“We’re here to win the Test match, not to see how many helmets we can hit. We keep talking about it … you’ve got to play on skill, not emotion, and it’s hard for young players, even senior players.
“You can get caught up in the atmosphere, you can get caught up in the contest. But it’s not an ego game. We’re here to win the Test match, not to see how many bruises we can give, that’s not winning Test matches, trust me, you can’t get out with a bruise on your arm.
“I’m sure the bouncer will still be part of every bowler’s armoury, if it helps us get batsmen out then we’ll use it, otherwise we’ll keep sticking to the plan.”
Smith’s absence leaves a yawning hole in the Australian order, with the former captain scoring 144, 142 and 92 in the last three innings.
He had been keen to play despite concerns over his health, and turned up to training in a watching brief, but Langer revealed assessment of his condition meant that was never a realistic option.
“At the end of the day it was really a no brainer,” he said, turning to a somewhat awkward phrase given the circumstances.
“It was pretty simple when we followed the protocols, he was probably a couple of days off being fit to be selected. He is not going to have time enough to tick off everything he needs to do to be ready to play.
“It’s not like England losing James Anderson, he’s arguably their best bowler, and we are going to arguably lose our best batter for this Test match.
“It’s always a blow, no doubt about that. If you take your best players out it always has an impact so we have got to make sure that all the other guys, our senior players and our younger players, all step up and fill what are almost unfillable shoes as he is almost the best player in the world.”
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Steve Smith’s titanic tussle with Jofra Archer, and the 92mph bouncer that ended their battle in gruesome fashion, dominated the fourth day of a second Ashes Test that is destined for a tense conclusion.
England lost their top order cheaply in the evening session and will begin day five 104 runs ahead on 96 for four, but events at Lord’s will be remembered for an unforgettable, adrenaline-fuelled duel in the afternoon.
Smith was on 80 and progressing towards his third successive century when debutant Archer clattered him in the neck at express pace, brutally flooring the Australian.
The England quick had already struck another nasty blow on Smith’s left forearm during a compelling spell that saw him clock one lightning fast delivery at 96.1mph, showcasing the sport at its most visceral, vital and ultimately violent.
Smith was led from the field but returned just 40 minutes later after passing concussion tests, dismissed softly by Chris Woakes for 92 and looking understandably shaken.
“Today was an ugly incident,” said Australia coach Justin Langer.
“Thankfully, Steve has come through it OK, and hopefully he will continue to have a great series. Because he got another 92 today. What an innings, what a player. And great courage as well, that he came back out.”
Australia coach Justin Langer admitted the ferocious blow to the neck which felled Steve Smith at Lord’s brought back “rough memories” for his side but lauded the batsman’s courage after he insisted on returning to the crease.
Day four of the second Ashes Test ended firmly in the balance, England 104 ahead with six second-innings wickets in hand heading into a finely-poised final day, but there was only one real talking point after an exhilarating afternoon duel between England’s debutant Jofra Archer and Smith.
Smith was on 80 when he turned his head on a 92.4mph bouncer from Archer and crumpled on impact after the ball struck. The delivery was the culmination of a fierce spell from Archer, who left Smith requiring concussion testing as well as X-rays to his left forearm following an early blow.
Moments earlier Archer had cranked the speed gun up to a remarkable 96.1mph and there was immediate, widespread concern as Smith briefly lay motionless.
It was only five years ago that Smith’s friend and team-mate Phil Hughes died after being hit on the neck by a bouncer during a Sheffield Shield game in Sydney, a harrowing incident for the whole of Australian cricket, not least current team members Nathan Lyon, Travis Head and David Warner, who played in the match.
Happily Smith was able to get up, retiring hurt but returning to action 40 minutes later before being dismissed for 92.
“You never like seeing your players get hit like that, no doubt, there’s obviously some pretty rough memories of a blow like that so…there was no fun in it,” said Langer, who also predicted that optional ‘stem guards’ on helmets might now become obligatory.
“Today was an ugly incident. I know (the extra protection) came in after the tragedy of Hughesy so I’m sure that will get talked about. At the moment, the players have a choice and I wouldn’t be surprised if they become mandatory in the future.
“Thankfully Steve has come through okay. He got another 92 today, what an innings, what a player and what great courage as well, that he came back out.”
There was widespread surprise that Smith opted to return to the middle when Peter Siddle was dismissed, but Cricket Australia allowed him to make the decision after he passed all on and off-field testing under the watch of team doctor Richard Saw.
Langer would have stepped in had he felt Smith was in danger of further serious injury but instead found himself marvelling at the player’s desperation to get back out in pursuit of a Lord’s hundred.
“These guys are like my sons, alright. You’re never going to put them in harm’s way. He was going ‘mate, I just want to get out there. I can’t get up on the honours board unless I’m out batting’.
“He was determined but he wouldn’t have gone out there unless we thought it was OK. I asked him privately, I asked him behind closed doors, I asked him in front of the group.”
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