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.”
Provided by Press Association Sport
Australia batsman Steve Smith was battered by a charged up England quick Jofra Archer on the fourth day of the Lord’s Ashes Test on Saturday, eventually falling short of a century after getting hit on the back of the neck.
Smith retired hurt during a fiery spell from Archer, who hit a top speed of 96mph. The Aussie batting mainstay was first struck on the forearm by an Archer bouncer in the 71st over when he was batting on 70. After getting assessed by the physio, Smith continued to bat with an arm guard, even though he was clearly in discomfort.
By that time, Smith had been rattled by Archer, who at one point bowled 16 deliveries in a row over the 90mph mark.
To the people who boo'ed Smith for returning to bat, the game isn't for you. We're better without you.— Nikhil 🏏 (@CricCrazyNIKS) August 17, 2019
Then when on 80, Smith ducked into a 92.4mph bouncer by Archer that hit the batsman flush on the back of the neck. Smith’s helmet did not have the protective neck guard, which has been introduced in the game following the tragic death of Aussie batsman Phil Hughes who got struck by a bouncer at almost the same spot.
Smith went down immediately and remained on the ground for a long duration as the medical team assessed the batsman. He had to retire hurt with the score on 203-6. There was a mix of warm applause and boos as Smith walked off the ground.
Cricket Australia (CA) then followed concussion protocols to see if Smith was out of danger and whether the team needed a substitute. He was cleared to bat, with CA saying in a statement: “Team doctor Richard Saw made the precautionary decision to remove Steve from the field of play to have him further assessed under Cricket Australia’s head impact protocol. Steve then passed his assessments and will now be monitored on an ongoing basis.”
When next man Peter Siddle got out in the 86th over, Smith walked out to bat and was booed by the Lord’s crowd again, as has been the case throughout the tour with English fans targeting Smith for the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa last year.
However, the Aussie batsman couldn’t last long as he missed a straight ball from Chir Woakes and shouldered arms to be out plumb lbw, which was upheld on review, for 92.