(Australian Associated Press)
Australia vice-captain Travis Head started using a neck guard after watching Steve Smith’s brutal scare at Lord’s but there remains no team rule regarding the helmet attachment.
Smith wasn’t wearing a StemGuard, the clip-on neck protector designed by helmet manufacturer Masuri in the aftermath of Phillip Hughes’ tragic death, when he was struck by a Jofra Archer bouncer on Saturday.
The ball belted Smith’s exposed neck as he twisted, prompting the star batsman to hit the deck in scenes that dredged up memories of the shocking accident at the SCG in 2014.
Smith was quickly back on his feet but the incident, which resulted in a delayed concussion, has prompted him to consider the merits of using a neck guard whenever he is given the green light to bat again.
Head, who like Smith had previously tried batting with a StemGuard but found them uncomfortable and restrictive, changed his tune and donned one during his match-saving unbeaten knock on day five of the second Ashes Test.
“I wore it and probably will wear it for the rest of the series,” Head said.
“The wickets are a little bit slower and you can get some that do different things, so it is not as true bounce … it is just better to be safe than copping one.
“As you’ve seen with Steve getting hit, you can get yourself into tricky positions … there was a lot of balls following batters.
“With the conditions in Australia you can sway out the way, the bounce is quite true.”
Neck guards are set to become mandatory next year as part of Cricket Australia’s concussion and head trauma policy.
“So I may as well get used to it now and then start putting them on,” Head said.
Justin Langer admitted during the second Test he was surprised to learn StemGuards weren’t already mandatory but the coach hasn’t instituted a team rule on the current tour.
“It is each to their own,” Head said.
“There are a lot of guys wearing them; all of the bowlers are wearing them now.”
Steve Smith ruled out of third Ashes Test
Australia are confident they can retain the Ashes in Leeds without Steve Smith, who has been officially ruled out of the third Test because of concussion.
Smith, recovering from a delayed concussion after being struck on the neck by a Jofra Archer bouncer at Lord’s, will not take the field when the series continues in Leeds at Headingley.
Smith is in far better spirits than on Sunday, when he became the first concussed cricketer to be substituted out of an international match, but the tight turnaround was always going to count against him.
“He was probably a couple of days off being fit,” coach Justin Langer said.
“It was really a no-brainer.
“Like all players, he wants to play … but he understands as well he’s not 100 per cent yet.”
Langer likened Smith’s omission to England paceman Jimmy Anderson’s calf injury but backed his charges to “fill what is almost unfillable shoes”.
Langer also flagged that changes to Australia’s top six from their second innings at Lord’s – where Marnus Labuschagne delivered a match-saving 59 while filling in for Smith – were not on the cards.
Smith failed to train on Tuesday, when the touring party had their first session since arriving in Leeds.
The former skipper had a long chat with Langer while inspecting the pitch and talked with team doctor Richard Saw, cutting a dejected figure in both conversations.
Shadow batting and walking was as rigorous as it was to get for Smith, who debriefed with mentor Mark Taylor after finally giving up hope of facing England.
England coach Trevor Bayliss admitted the absence of “the best batter in the world” would obviously improve his team’s chances of squaring the five-Test series.
“But as his replacement showed in the last match, he’s more than capable,” Bayliss added.
“The winner of this Ashes is not going to necessarily come down to one player from either side.
Labuschagne will need to step up again.
The pressure will also rise on Travis Head, who has been Australia’s best-performing batsman on the tour outside their talismanic run glutton – and David Warner.
“It (the Lord’s draw) showed that without Steve, we were able to get the job done which is a positive,” Head said.
“Marnus came in and played beautifully. He has been fantastic over here in the county season – got a lot of hundreds.
“Wadey got a hundred at Edgbaston, so I think we have got guys who are in form … we have got the batting in the sheds that can do the job.”
Labuschagne, hit on the helmet by Archer in the second Test, suffered another scare on Tuesday when struck on the grille by Mitchell Starc in the nets but was given the green light to continue batting.
Cricket Australia’s concussion and head trauma policy dictated the only opinion that mattered in Smith’s selection battle was that of Dr Saw.
The medico will continue to assess Smith regularly and remains in sole control of his gradual return to activity but there is hope the right-hander will play Australia’s tour game after the third Test.