A brutal blow to Steve Smith's exposed neck in the second Ashes test at Lord’s has reignited debate over the use of neck guards in cricket, which could potentially become mandatory in Australia as soon as next year.
Smith was going strong on 80 on the fourth day when he was struck by a bouncer from fast bowler Jofra Archer – travelling at a vicious 92.4 mph -- on the (unprotected) back of his neck.
Smith has occasionally worn the neck guards but has ditched it in recent times. He hit the deck, lay on the ground for a while, and it took him time to regather himself.
The broader question is whether players should be forced to wear neck guards, made of plastic and foam, when they don a helmet. At present, Cricket Australia t lists the use of neck guards as "recommended" but not mandatory.
The issue was covered in the findings of into the death of Phillip Hughes who died in November 2014, two days after being hit by a ball when batting in a domestic match. The inquest, however, made it clear that neck guard would have been unlikely to prevent the death of Hughes.
Smith was also not wearing the attachment to the helmet that protects the neck now favoured by most players. The attachment was introduced after Hughes’ fatal knock in 2014.What next in cricket: neck guards?
Asked whether he thought neck guards should be made mandatory for the players, Australian coach Justin Langer said that Smith will have to wear a neck guard on his helmet in future whether he likes it or not.
"I think Steve (Smith) 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," the coach said.
The coach said Australia had not taken an undue risk in allowing Smith to resume his innings. "He had the concussion testing and passed all that and that's why he came back out to bat.
These are like my sons alright, so you're never going to put them in harm's way, even though you're always in harm's way with Test cricket. "We asked him over and over. I asked him privately, behind closed doors two or three times, I asked him in front of the group.
He just said 'all good, all good coach, I'm ready to go'. 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."