Time to take player safety out of players' hands

Updated: Aug 19, 2019, 11:34 IST | A correspondent |

Smith's condition deteriorated on Sunday morning and he was substituted. While better sense seems to have eventually prevailed, the incident has exposed deficiencies in the ICC's efforts to make the game safer

Australian batsman Steve Smith in action during the 2019 Ashes series
Australian batsman Steve Smith in action during the 2019 Ashes series

The second Ashes Test on Saturday witnessed an engrossing passage of play where the in-form Australian Steven Smith was severely tested by English debutant Jofra Archer with some hostile fast bowling. Smith was first hit on the elbow, and later on a soft spot at the back of his head. He had to be taken off the field for a mandated concussion test.

Surprisingly, he was deemed fit by both Cricket Australia and the International Cricket Council, and walked in to bat within an hour. (Experts say concussion symptoms may appear up to 36 hours, or even days, of a blow to the head.) While a lot of talk around the incident centred on the gladiatorial nature of the contest and Smith's courage, it was hard to escape the memories of 2014, when a similar blow to the back of the head resulted in the death of Australian Phil Hughes.

Hughes's tragedy resulted in two changes: 1. helmet makers began to improve safety standards by reducing the gap between the peak and the grille, and introduced an occipital protector (neck guard) which provides cushioning to the back of the head. (Smith was not wearing his at the time of the incident) 2. CA, and then ICC, introduced new concussion rules, including allowing like-for-like concussion substitutes.

Smith's condition deteriorated on Sunday morning and he was substituted. While better sense seems to have eventually prevailed, the incident has exposed deficiencies in the ICC's efforts to make the game safer.

While it works out a better diagnostic approach, the ICC should immediately enforce the wearing of the neck protector by batsmen at all times when they are at the crease against pacers. While this does impinge on the personal liberties of a player — as Alastair Cook famously argued against new helmets in 2016 — the ICC has to draw the line somewhere. While players may think they know what is best for them, the game cannot afford another tragedy like that of Hughes.

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