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 96-4, 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.
Archer will not take any pleasure in the plight of his Rajasthan Royals team-mate, but if there were any remaining doubts about the 24-year-old’s ability to become one of the most ferocious Test bowlers around – remember Australia coach Justin Langer’s comments about the longer format wearing him down – they evaporated at Lord’s.
The passage of play midway through the afternoon session had been impossibly tense, with the state of the game relegated to secondary status as Smith and Archer went head to head.
Smith, who occupied the crease for 11 hours during his match-winning twin centuries at Edgbaston, had already chewed through another 143 deliveries to frustrate England when Archer cranked things up to the next level.
Bowling fast and straight with the old ball he drew a rare misjudgement from Smith, who ducked into a short one and sustained a heavy blow to the left forearm.
He winced in pain and shook his head, stopping to receive treatment as physios massaged the bruising and supplied painkillers.
An over of left-arm spin provided the buffer before Archer went again, testing Smith with a series of precise bumpers aimed at the body and each comfortably above the 90mph threshold.
Smith took on the first and top-edged a hook straight over the wicketkeeper for four, then mis-hit the second to fine leg, having again taken the aggressive option.
The last ball of the over, Archer’s 25th of the innings, was the most remarkable yet, clocking in at a quite incredible 96.1mph.
It was also accurate, zoning in on Smith’s rib cage, only to be expertly guided downwards in the direction of short leg while not offering a hint of a catch.
Smith took the upper hand momentarily at the start of the fateful 77th over, swivelling to pull Archer for four and paving the way for a decisive reply.
Once again Archer went short and, although Smith shaped to duck, he got himself into an awkward position, eventually turning his head as the Dukes ball reared up under the protected area and crashed into the lower part of the neck.
Smith’s limp tumble to the turf could not help but conjure chilling reminders of his late team-mate Phil Hughes, who died five years ago after being hit by a bouncer while batting for South Australia.
Thankfully Smith was eventually able to get up, even appearing to argue his case for remaining in position.
Once replays showed the extent of the contact, and with Archer ready and willing to send down more of the same, that was never a likely option and he was led to the pavilion to sounds of applause. Rather less impressively there were audible boos when he returned to the middle after 54 balls away, Woakes taking Siddle’s edge.
Provided by Press Association Sport
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