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Was Steve Smith foolish to resume his innings?


Steve Smith, Australia’s batting star, was hit by a bouncer but resumed his first innings, after passing concussion tests, less than an hour after being struck on the neck by a 148-kilometreper- hour-bouncer by Jofra Archer during a spell of bowling that was described as "truly frightening". However, the following day Smith developed "a bit of a headache and a feeling of grogginess" and was withdrawn from the Test by team doctor Richard Saw. Was he foolish to return to resume his innings? Did CA doctors and support staff make the wrong call? If Aussies were not in trouble and Smith was not valuable would he have returned? Did the medical staff make the right call? These are the questions linger in the minds of the cricket fan around the world.

Brain injury charity Headway said it was "incredibly dangerous" for Steve Smith to resume his first innings in the second Ashes Test at Lord's and is urging cricket bodies to rethink concussion protocols. Headway said no concussion test is foolproof and cricket bodies should err on the side of caution. Cricket Australia continue to state that all the protocols were followed correctly.

Luke Griggs, deputy chief executive of Headway, said that cricket bodies should err on the side of caution. "What this incident highlights is that no test for concussion is foolproof," Mr Griggs said. "The signs can be delayed for several hours and sometimes even a couple of days. You cannot take any risks with concussion, which is why we have always said that all sports have to take an 'if in doubt, sit it out' approach.”

If Steve Smith needs to overcome any psychological hurdles caused by his Ashes concussion, he needs look no further than his coach Justin Langer, writes Clint Thomas. You have to be over-cautious when it comes to any type of concussion. "The reaction time of a batsman facing a 90mph-plus delivery is incredibly small and yet it is absolutely vital they are fully concentrated. With concussion the vision can be blurred and the brain can be slow at processing information. That leads to delayed reaction times and is just incredibly dangerous."

Concussions in general need not be immediate and can be “delayed”. Cricket Australia themselves said in a statement that "statistics show that 30 per cent of concussions in Australian cricket are delayed". It was a poor decision to allow Smith to continue his innings. Cricket Australia may claim that they’re the leaders in concussion protocols but the way Smith batted on his return shows he wasn’t just right.

Queensland Brain Institute’s Dr Fatima Nasrallah points out that even if a concussion doesn’t have any initial symptoms, it doesn’t mean the brain hasn’t been damaged. Even a mild concussion needs time to heal. This is particularly an issue in sport. If a concussion isn’t obvious at first, continuing to play even the next day or the next week can aggravate the original injury and lead to further damage and the onset of symptoms. So, as time passes, and new symptoms emerge it’s quite difficult to tell whether these are due solely to the initial concussion or whether additional injuries have accumulated on top of it. Based on this Steve Smith returning to bat appears foolish with a risk of brain injury later.

Several other eminent medical experts have questioned the decision to resume the innings. Dr Adrian Cohen said the team should have acted on the obvious signs that Smith was likely to develop concussion, despite being cleared by the earlier test. “Symptoms can take up to 72 hours to develop,” Dr Cohen said. “But the signs of concussion were that he was knocked down and out. These tests are fundamentally flawed. Allowing such events to slip through while everyone swearing they ‘did them by the book’. So, it’s time to throw the book out. These tests just aren’t sufficient.”

However, Cricket Australia's sports medicine boss Alex Kountouris said he was comfortable with the way Steve Smith's concussion was handled, adding it would be an overreaction to make every player who is struck in the head sit out the rest of the game. "The reality is that only about one in five or one in six head impacts end up being concussions," he told reporters in Sydney.

Health and well-being should of course always be the ultimate deciding factor for a player to be deemed fit for duty. As England captain Joe Root put it, "this is a huge series and it means so much to all our players, but it doesn't mean that much in terms of someone getting seriously hurt." You still want the best players playing every game and missing out only based on performance or fitness and not protocol.

At the moment, the protocols for concussion and head injuries vary around the world. The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) recommends a minimum sixday rest for a player who's been concussed or shown signs of it before he or she returns to the field. According to the CA policy, though a player cannot train or compete for 24 hours after being concussed, which is deemed as "complete physical and cognitive rest". But from that point on, he or she has to clear three stages before returning to "full training", following which it completely depends on the doctors clearing them for a full-fledged return.

Insanity was at its peak after the incident when Justin Langer, the coach, claimed that Smith said “Mate, I just want to get out there. I can’t get up on the honours board unless I am batting”. It appears that personal safety matters less than life or death. Earlier Smith was hit on the arm by another vicious delivery from Jofra Archer. Langer said after stumps on day four Smith was actually more concerned about his arm and being able to grip the bat properly than he was about any concussion fears. This is just laughable.

At the end of the day, missing out on one Test may not have a massive bearing on Smith's career. Smith was just coming off a one-year ban from international cricket for tampering with the ball. Smith may have given an unintentional message to the cricketers – it is courageous to dismiss serious injury and resume innings as if nothing has happened. This could have a devastating impact on a younger or lower-profile cricketer. Hopefully sanity prevails and that long-term player welfare is being taken seriously.


Sports News By

Srinivasan


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