For a good 10 minutes on Saturday, the cricketing world forgot to breathe. Steve Smith, facing English bowler Jofra Archer, got hit on the side of his neck before collapsing on the Lord’s ground. The mind jogged back to when Australian batsman Phil Hughes suffered a fatal blow while playing in a match in 2014. What made the whole scene more uncomfortable was that Smith—playing without the optional neck guard made available by helmet manufacturers to cricketers following the 2014 incident—was hit close to the spot where the ball struck Hughes.
When it became apparent that the former Australian captain was fit enough to walk away from the scene, there was an outpouring of relief. However, this incident once again goes to show the risk batsmen face when squaring up to bowlers capable of generating incredible speeds. While it’s commendable that the ICC has fast-tracked the ‘concussion substitute’ rules to the international game to forcibly prevent players from endangering their lives, it can do more. For starters, make wearing neck guards a necessity. They provide additional protection for deliveries that hit batsmen on the back of the neck. If Smith had been wearing one, he could have escaped with minimal injuries.
Most cricketers prefer not to wear it as it makes them uncomfortable and has the potential to impede strokeplay. But when you consider the bigger picture, that’s a small trade-off.
The Australia team’s chief medical doctor, who conducted all the concussion-related tests on Smith, said compulsory neck guards are already on the agenda for their cricketers. More should also be done to protect cricketers once they have been hit on the helmet. Don’t send players out to bat immediately as symptoms can often be delayed. Smith was cleared by the doctor but had developed symptoms that required him to sit out. It could easily have ended in tragedy if he had been hit on the helmet again when he was batting. Smith got lucky on Saturday. Someone else may not be that lucky the next time.