A horrific blow that saw Steve Smith struck in the neck by a bouncer and immediately collapse headlined an ultimately fascinating day four of the second Ashes Test.
The Test moved quickly on Saturday (local time) as Australia was bowled out for 250, largely thanks to Smith’s 92, before England wobbled in its second innings, finishing at 4-96 with a lead of just 104 runs.
But Lord’s stood still – and silent – after Smith, on 80, was struck a sickening blow below his left ear by a sharp Jofra Archer bouncer.
The Australian batsman collapsed, clearly disorientated, but managed to remove his helmet as players from both sides rushed to his aid.
Smith forced from the field after the brutal bouncer from Archer strikes him!
— Wide World of Sports (@wwos) August 17, 2019
With the tragic loss of Phillip Hughes still raw in the memory of cricket fans, it was impossible not to be reminded of the incident in the immediate aftermath.
Smith was attended to by the Australian team doctor, and under cricket’s new concussion protocols, taken from the field and replaced by Peter Siddle.
“I think everybody’s minds went back to Phillip Hughes at that point,” commentator Michael Atherton said on Sky Sports.
“He was hit in a not too dissimilar position … Smith’s was a bit further down around the neck but it was still a horrific blow.
“When you see a guy completely poleaxed … it’s something you never want to see on a cricket field.”
It was not the first time Smith had been hit by Archer. In fact, the two both played their part in a mesmerising battle between the world’s best batsman and a Test debutant regularly bowling at speeds in excess of 140 kilometres-per-hour.
Bowling with pace, aggression and variety, Archer tested Smith, who often eased the pressure with a well-timed boundary.
This battle was truly gripping and it looked like Smith, still at the crease, was getting the better of the paceman before the England quick hit the batsman in the forearm on 70.
Smith was clearly in pain after the incident but fought on, knowing Matthew Wade (6) and Tim Paine (23) were already back in the pavilion.
Smith, unsurprisingly, had scored the bulk of Australia’s runs and he continued on until he was hit for a second time.
“It was a terrible blow. It looked horrible at the time and we weren’t sure what would happen … obviously the mind goes into overdrive. Thankfully, he’s okay and he is in very good spirits tonight,” Australia coach Justin Langer said on Sky Sports.
Langer added that Smith did not bat with the stem guards developed after the Hughes tragedy that offer players a safer helmet, and that it was “a personal choice”.
A range of tests and checks on Smith were completed while Siddle (9) batted with Pat Cummins (20). When Siddle departed, Smith came back out to bat in a show of fight and bravery.
But while he was warmly applauded by the Lord’s Long Room and many fans, Smith was also incredibly booed by large sections of the crowd as he came back out to bat.
Even Michael Vaughan pleaded with England fans to “please stop booing” on Twitter and Smith responded by hitting two of the first three deliveries he faced for four after his return.
He would not last much longer, though, after he uncharacteristically left a straight Chris Woakes ball and was plumb lbw just eight runs short of another hundred.
A Cricket Australia statement on Smith’s condition soon followed: “Steve was hit on the neck below the left ear. He was assessed lying on the pitch at the instructions of team doctor Richard Saw.
“Dr 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, as is routine.”
Nathan Lyon (6) and Cummins were soon dismissed, leaving Australia all out for 250, eight runs short of England’s first innings total.
Stuart Broad finished with figures of 4-65, while Woakes took 3-61 and Archer ended up with two wickets.
Smith was then sent for “a precautionary X-ray” on his left forearm but Cricket Australia later cleared him of any fracture.
England in trouble
On the field, England was in early trouble after Cummins (2-16) removed Jason Roy (2) and Joe Root (0) in successive deliveries.
Joe Denly (26) was then dropped on seven, David Warner spilling a tough chance at first slip off Siddle and the reprieves kept coming as Australia failed to review an incorrect lbw decision that would have seen Rory Burns (29) dismissed.
Siddle then stepped up to remove Denly, caught and bowled, and Burns, caught behind with a brilliant delivery that leapt up off the seam.
Warner endured a session to forget, though, dropping another chance at slip that would have dismissed Stokes, who was also lucky when Australia again declined to review an lbw decision that was proved wrong.
And Stokes (16 not out) and Jos Buttler (10 not out) managed to see it out until stumps on a fascinating day of Test cricket.