(CNN)The ball crunched against the Australian cricketer’s forearm. Soon after, another rocketed into Steve Smith’s neck — just below his left ear — poleaxing the Aussie batsman.
Unflappable, unwavering and unflustered — as he had been throughout this Ashes series — Smith had looked on course for tis third straight century on Saturday before, under a murky, gray sky, England fast bowler Jofra Archer began to unsettle the 30-year-old Australian.
During a fiery spell which featured a delivery clocked at 96mph, Archer and Smith went toe-to-toe like a couple of heavyweight boxers in a contest that had viewers gripped.
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A race to be fit
Scans later showed no fracture to Smith’s arm but the 92mph bouncer that cannoned into the Australian’s neck turned out to have had a more lasting effect.
Back in the changing room, Smith was initially put through routine tests by Australian team doctor Richard Saw, and the batsman returned to the game on Saturday before eventually being dismissed for 92.
However, following the close of play on Saturday, Smith complained of headaches and was subsequently ruled out of the remainder of the match on Sunday — Marnus Labuschagne becoming the first concussion substitute in a Test.
The third Test starts on Thursday in Leeds, but the 30-year-old Australian won’t be rushing his return.
“It’s obviously a quick turnaround between Test matches,” Smith said on Sunday.
“I’m going to be assessed over the next five or six days, each day a couple of times, to see how I’m feeling and how I’m progressing.
“I’m hopeful I’ll be available for that Test match, but it’s certainly up to the medical staff and we’ll have conversations.
“It’s certainly an area of concern, concussion, and I want to be 100% fit. I’ve got to be able to train a couple of days out and then face fast bowling to make sure my reaction time is in place.”
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A dark reminder
The sight of an Australian batsmen lying prone on the ground having been struck by a cricket ball brought back some troubling memories for Australian cricket.
In 2014, Australian batsman Phillip Hughes died aged 25, two days after being hit in the head by a ball when batting in a domestic match.
Following Hughes’ tragic death, changes were made to further protect batsmen, with stem guards designed and made optional for players to wear on their helmets.
After initially not feeling comfortable playing with the guards on his helmet, Smith believes he may have to rethink his stance on them following this recent episode.
“I think I, along with a few other players in the team, find it a little bit different, uncomfortable compared to what we’re used to,” he said.
“I feel a little bit claustrophobic when it’s on. I feel like I’m enclosed and not overly comfortable.
“It’s certainly something I need to probably have a look at and perhaps try in the nets and see if I can find a way to get comfortable with it.”
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The correct decision
Research carried out by Cricket Australia shows that delayed concussion — where symptoms don’t develop until several hours after the initial blow — occur in approximately 30% of cases.
In the second Test at Lord’s, three players were hit on the head and Smith was the only player to suffer a concussion.
And given only around 20% of head impacts in cricket result in a concussion, Alex Kountouris, Cricket Australia’s manager of sports medicine, believes removing a player from the game every time they were struck in the head would be unnecessary.
“The reality is only about one in five or six head impacts end up in concussion,” Kountouris said at a press conference in Australia on Monday.
“If we pulled out every player who had a head impact, we’d be pulling out 80% of players who don’t have a concussion and taking them out of the game. So that would be an overreaction.
“If you look at that game, there were three other head impacts and only Steve had a concussion.
“He didn’t have a concussion at the time (he was hit) so he was allowed to play. If we took him out of the game, we would have been leaving him out of the game for no reason other than what we saw on the field.”
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Kountouris also said he was “100%” satisfied by Dr. Saw’s treatment of Smith.
“At the end of the day, our doctor pulled him out of day five of the Test match, which was a pretty critical part of the game,” he said.
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“Our doctor is an expert in his field, he’s trained to pick up even the minor signs of concussion.
“(He) was brilliant. Everything he did was according to the protocol, he was very thorough, and we know he’s very thorough. We’re 100% happy with what happened over there.”
Australian lead the series 1-0.