(Australian Associated Press)
Steve Smith has opened up about his reluctance to wear a StemGuard, likening the clip-on helmet attachment to being “stuck in an MRI scan machine”.
Smith wasn’t wearing a StemGuard during the second Ashes Test at Lord’s, where he was hit on the neck by a Jofra Archer bouncer.
Australia’s best batsman retired hurt after the blow, returned to bat then was diagnosed with delayed concussion that forced him to sit out the final day of the second Test and then the third match of the series.
Cricket Australia (CA) is expected to make the neck protectors, designed in the aftermath of Phillip Hughes’ tragic death in 2014, mandatory next year but their use is currently only recommended.
Smith, who has previously described himself as a “headcase” at the crease because of a list of quirks that include taping his shoelaces to his socks so they’re not an unsightly distraction, now has a major dilemma.
The 30-year-old knows he should wear a StemGuard, starting with the Derby tour game that starts Thursday, and wants to.
But the protective equipment just doesn’t sit right in the eccentric genius’ batting bubble.
“I’ve tried them before and I tried them the other day when I was batting (in the nets) and I reckon my heart rate went up about 30 or 40 straight away,” Smith said.
“I just feel claustrophobic.
“I compare it to being stuck in an MRI scan machine.
“They’re probably going to become mandatory, so I’m going to have to get used to them.
“I’m sure the more I wear them, the more I practice with them, my heart rate will come down and everything will be OK.”
Smith added it is unclear whether the attachment would have absorbed the impact and/or made any difference to his injury in London because of “the way my head sort of went back and where it hit me”.
David Warner is among the other players who also find StemGuards restrictive and uncomfortable, noting in 2016 he does “not and will not wear” one because it “digs into” his neck and is a distraction.
Tim Paine argued last week that “everyone playing cricket should be wearing them”, while former Test opener Chris Rogers suggested the sooner StemGuards become mandatory the better.
Smith’s frightening scare has prompted players from both Australia and England, such as Travis Head and Ben Stokes, to reconsider their reluctance.
Stokes didn’t use a StemGuard at Lord’s but changed tack at Headingley, where it fell off when the allrounder was struck on the helmet by a Josh Hazlewood bouncer during his match-winning knock.
Bring on the bouncer barrage: Steve Smith
Steve Smith is ready to face the chin music at Old Trafford after a jarring reminder of his mortality, rubbishing the notion Jofra Archer has found a weakness to target.
Smith has recovered from the delayed concussion that forced him to miss the third Ashes Test, which he painstakingly watched as Ben Stokes snatched an incredible series-levelling win for England.
The 30-year-old has been a man on a mission preparing for a tour game in Derby that starts on Thursday, which will serve as an idea tune-up for the fourth Test beginning next Wednesday.
The return of the batsman widely considered Australia’s best since Don Bradman, coupled with the expected comeback of England’s all-time leading wicket-taker Jimmy Anderson, has raised expectations of more marvellous cricket in the final two Tests.
Smith’s duel with Archer will be the most intriguing of many subplots next week.
The Indian Premier League teammates have spoken in passing since the bouncer blow to Smith’s exposed neck, which Justin Langer noted dredged up “rough memories” of Phillip Hughes’ tragic death.
But not specifically about the incident, when time seemingly stood still as a shocked Smith hit the deck at Lord’s and immediately cast his mind back to the shocking accident at the SCG in 2014.
“A few things running through my head,” he recalled.
“Particularly where I got hit, just a bit of past came up – if you know what I mean – from a few years ago.
“That was probably the first thing I thought about.
“Then I was like ‘I’m OK here’ and I was alright. I was a little bit sad but I was alright mentally for the rest of that afternoon.”
Former England captain Nasser Hussain has suggested Smith’s stunning form could be affected by his nasty scare.
England tailender Stuart Broad is a prime example of how a cricket ball can do physical and psychological damage.
Broad is always peppered with short stuff, having admitted in 2015 he experienced recurring flashback nightmares after his nose was broken by a bouncer.
Smith, who scored 144, 142 and 92 in his previous three knocks, has vowed he will not “change anything” at the crease.
“There’s been a bit of talk that he (Archer) has got the wood over me, but he hasn’t actually got me out,” Smith told reporters.
“He hit me on the head on a wicket that was a bit up and down … all the other bowlers have had more success against me.”
The run glutton welcomed the prospect of a bouncer barrage.
“If they’re bowling up there it means they can’t nick me off,” Smith said.
“Or hit me on the pad or hit the stumps.
“With the Dukes ball. I don’t know, that’s an interesting ploy.”
Having made it through a net session against Mitch Marsh and Michael Neser at Headingley without any issues, Smith has been passed fit and is keen to step things up.