Australia's coach Justin Langer has revealed how Steven Smith came to be batting again in the Lord's Test, less than an hour after he had retired hurt with a sickening blow to the back of the neck from a scorching bouncer delivered by Jofra Archer, protesting that he needed to be given the chance to make a century at the home of cricket.
On 80 when he was hit by Archer and left prostrate on the ground, Smith took time to regather himself and was initially withdrawn by the team doctor Richard Saw for precautionary concussion testing. There was widespread surprise when Smith re-emerged at the fall of Peter Siddle's wicket, and what followed was a skittish innings ended when he shouldered arms to a straight ball from Chris Woakes. But Langer insisted that Smith had passed all the tests required and also headed off multiple reassurances from the coach and others that he was okay to bat.
"Because he was hit in the neck and not in the helmet or in the head maybe that had a bit of an impact, it was like getting a soft tissue injury," Langer said. "He got hit on the arm as well and then hit on the neck. But as soon as he got up in the medical room, it was like 'nah I'm going okay', then he had the concussion testing and the doctor came through and said 'he's passed all that and he's pretty good'. By the time he walked back in the dressing room he just couldn't wait to get back out there again.
"I was saying 'mate are you sure you're okay', these are like my sons right, so you're never going to put them in harm's way, even though you're always in harm's way with Test cricket. But he's going 'mate, I've got to get out there, I can't get on the honour board unless I'm out batting'. That's what he says, that's what he thinks. He was determined. All he was worried about was that he wasn't going to be able to play his forward defence because it was hurting with his top hand grip.
"We can look into it, but honestly he wouldn't have gone out there unless we thought [he was okay]. We asked him over and over. I asked him privately, I asked him behind closed doors two or three times, I asked him in front of the group, he just goes 'all good, all good coach, I'm ready to go, I'm ready to go'. What else do you do? The medicos cleared him, he wanted to get out there, we were looking after him, and he said 'honestly I'm ready to go, my arm's a bit sore'. That's why he went out there."
The Australian team was visibly shaken by the episode, with its parallels to the death of Phillip Hughes when hit in a similar part of the neck at the SCG in November 2014. "You never like seeing your players get hit like that, no doubt about that," Langer said. "It was obviously some pretty rough memories of a blow like that, so there's no fun in it."
With that in mind, Langer reckoned that Smith would have to rethink his reluctance to wear a stem guard on the back of his helmet, of the kind widely introduced in the wake of Hughes' death. The blow he suffered from Archer at Lord's may well have been softened or at least partly deflected by the extra protection, which is optional rather than mandatory under the game's regulations.
"Very good question," Langer said when asked whether he thought the guards should be mandatory. "I didn't realise, it might be my error but I didn't realise they weren't mandatory until today. I think Steve wrote in his book he just doesn't like or feel comfortable [with a stem guard]. He's got all these idiosyncrasies everyone's talking about - he doesn't like having shoelaces he can see, doesn't like his shoes being dirty, so it's the same, it just doesn't feel right.
"I'm sure after today it'll get talked about again, I know they came in after the tragedy of Hughesy. So I'm sure it'll get talked about, and he might rethink it now after seeing what happened today, but you'd have to ask him that. At the moment the players have a choice, and I wouldn't be surprised if they become mandatory in the future."
As for how the blow and Archer's brutish spell might influence Smith and the remainder of the series, Langer admitted that it had to have some effect on the former captain's mentality, but was equally adamant that Smith would find a way to deliver his own riposte later in the series. Smith was cleared of any fracture for the earlier blow to the arm, and will undergo subsequent concussion testing before play on the final day.
"I can only go from experience. When you get hit, it's always in the back of your mind, no doubt. Any batsman who tells you it's not is a liar," Langer said. "But he is also the sort of person who will do everything from now until the next time he bats, whether mentally or visualising or practising, to be right. He loves batting, we saw that masterclass the other day - no one is going to stop him batting, so he'll practice it, work it out, and hopefully he'll get back into it."