Australia’s head coach Justin Langer has told his bowlers not to let their egos draw them into a battle of the bouncers at Headingley, after Steve Smith was ruled out of the third Ashes Test with concussion.
Smith has been undergoing constant medical assessments since showing delayed symptoms the day after being hit in the neck by a 92mph Jofra Archer delivery at Lord’s, and has been told his recovery plan will not allow him to be involved when the contest resumes on Thursday.
Archer’s pace and hostility on debut lit a fuse under the series, which the tourists lead 1-0, as the 24-year-old also struck Matthew Wade and Marnus Labuschagne on the helmet and routinely bowled well above 90mph.
Australia have been no shrinking violets in terms of using speed as a weapon in the past and, with Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Mitchell Starc all well capable of bowling quickly they could easily attempt to fight fire with fire.
Langer, though, wants a dispassionate display.
“We know what our plans are to beat England. What we’re not going to do is get caught up an an emotional battle of who’s going to bowl the quickest bouncers,” he said.
“We’re here to win the Test match, not to see how many helmets we can hit. We keep talking about it … you’ve got to play on skill, not emotion, and it’s hard for young players, even senior players.
“You can get caught up in the atmosphere, you can get caught up in the contest. But it’s not an ego game. We’re here to win the Test match, not to see how many bruises we can give, that’s not winning Test matches, trust me, you can’t get out with a bruise on your arm.
“I’m sure the bouncer will still be part of every bowler’s armoury, if it helps us get batsmen out then we’ll use it, otherwise we’ll keep sticking to the plan.”
Smith’s absence leaves a yawning hole in the Australian order, with the former captain scoring 144, 142 and 92 in the last three innings.
He had been keen to play despite concerns over his health, and turned up to training in a watching brief, but Langer revealed assessment of his condition meant that was never a realistic option.
“At the end of the day it was really a no brainer,” he said, turning to a somewhat awkward phrase given the circumstances.
“It was pretty simple when we followed the protocols, he was probably a couple of days off being fit to be selected. He is not going to have time enough to tick off everything he needs to do to be ready to play.
“It’s not like England losing James Anderson, he’s arguably their best bowler, and we are going to arguably lose our best batter for this Test match.
“It’s always a blow, no doubt about that. If you take your best players out it always has an impact so we have got to make sure that all the other guys, our senior players and our younger players, all step up and fill what are almost unfillable shoes as he is almost the best player in the world.”
Smith is now expected to return in a tour match against Derbyshire slotted between the third and fourth Tests.
“That would be great for him rather than just doing it in the nets or having throwdowns…it could work out really well,” said Langer.
“We know what he’s like, so look out Derbyshire bowlers!”
Brain injury association Headway welcomed Smith’s exclusion from the third Test and called for neck guards to become mandatory on cricket helmets.
Chief executive Peter McCabe said in a statement: “We welcome the news that Steve Smith will take no part in the next Ashes Test and wish him well.
“However, this incident should be a wake-up call for the game. Cricket has to seize the initiative and make permanent changes which will safeguard players from the possible dangers of concussion.
“The time has come for the International Cricket Council to introduce a more robust protocol which sets a specific period that players are required to rest following a concussion. Likewise, we feel that neck/stem guards should be mandatory.
“Finally, the decision if a player should continue following a suspected concussion should be made by an independent doctor away from the intense competitive pressures on the team.”