Australia captain Tim Paine is convinced Steve Smith’s powers will be undimmed by the blow to the neck and subsequent concussion that have led to his omission from the third Ashes Test.
Smith was in position at Lord’s to add another three-figure score to his twin hundreds in the series opener at Edgbaston, only to be chillingly floored by a Jofra Archer bouncer which landed just below the side of his helmet.
A concussion diagnosis precludes his involvement at Headingley but Paine is convinced, if he returns later in the series, the incident will not have had any impact on his batting.
Paine said: “He’s been in really good form, he’s been playing really well so he’s disappointed not to be playing. He along with the rest of our group understand why he isn’t.
“Steve loves batting, I don’t think that’s going to change.
“Steve Smith’s the best player in the world, he will come back in the next Test, if it’s the next Test or the tour game (against Derbyshire, starting next week), and we’re expecting him to be the same old Steve Smith.
Steve Smith’s the best player in the world, he will come back in the next Test, if it’s the next Test or the tour game (against Derbyshire, starting next week), and we’re expecting him to be the same old Steve Smith.Tim Paine
“He’s a high-quality player and he’ll adapt as he always has.”
The absence of a batsman whose Test average of 63.24 is only bettered in history by the great Sir Don Bradman leaves a sizeable void – and one Paine insists Marnus Labuschagne is not responsible for filling alone.
Labuschagne replaced Smith as international cricket’s first concussion substitute at the ‘Home of Cricket’ and took a blow to the helmet from another Archer bumper.
He recovered and performed commendably in Smith’s stead, registering a 100-ball 59 as the tourists secured a nail-biting draw to preserve their 1-0 series lead, therefore earning his place for Leeds.
Paine said: “Marnus is strange, he seems to enjoy getting hit on the head. Marnus has handled himself exceptionally, his innings was unbelievable after that happened.
“But there aren’t too many guys, there’s only one other, that have averaged higher than Steve in Test cricket. Clearly they are huge shoes to fill and we don’t put all that pressure on Marnus.
“Marnus comes in to play a role in our team and it’s up to everyone else, particularly our senior players, to just make sure we give that little bit more output and cover Steve as best we can.”
While there are protocols in place for concussion substitutes, the Smith issue has raised the question of whether there should be replacements for other injuries, such as broken bones.
Paine said: “I think that’s just bad luck. For the concussion one at times, if someone has had concussion, the temptation is if you’re nine down and there’s an over to go, you’ll send someone out.
“I think this way you safeguard against that. Obviously head injuries are a lot more serious than finger or arm injuries.”
Archer regularly surpassed speeds of 90mph at Lord’s, hitting 96.1mph at one point, with his express pace routinely troubling not only Smith among Australia’s ranks.
Paine, who refused to reveal his XI but said Australia were “looking at a bowling change”, added: “It’s about adapting to the situation, the wicket and what any of their bowlers are trying to do.
“We’ve got to have a plan to counter that and our boys will. Everyone is going to be different, we’re all different players.
“When someone’s bowling fast and the crowd’s up and about it’s exciting, your adrenaline starts pumping. It’s exciting, it’s great for Test match cricket. The interest it’s sparked in the last week or 10 days has been great for the game.”