Australia’s coach Justin Langer has revealed how Steven Smith came to be batting again in the Lord’s Test, less than an hour after he had retired hurt with a sickening blow to the back of the neck from a scorching bouncer delivered by Jofra Archer, protesting that he needed to be given the chance to make a century at the home of cricket.
On 80 when he was hit by Archer and left prostrate on the ground, Smith took time to regather himself and was initially withdrawn by the team doctor Richard Saw for precautionary concussion testing. There was widespread surprise when Smith re-emerged at the fall of Peter Siddle’s wicket, and what followed was a skittish innings ended when he shouldered arms to a straight ball from Chris Woakes. But Langer insisted that Smith had passed all the tests required and also headed off multiple reassurances from the coach and others that he was okay to bat.
“Because he was hit in the neck and not in the helmet or in the head maybe that had a bit of an impact, it was like getting a soft tissue injury,” Langer said. “He got hit on the arm as well and then hit on the neck. But as soon as he got up in the medical room, it was like ‘nah I’m going okay’, then he had the concussion testing and the doctor came through and said ‘he’s passed all that and he’s pretty good’. By the time he walked back in the dressing room he just couldn’t wait to get back out there again.
“I was saying ‘mate are you sure you’re okay’, these are like my sons right, so you’re never going to put them in harm’s way, even though you’re always in harm’s way with Test cricket. But he’s going ‘mate, I’ve got to get out there, I can’t get on the honour board unless I’m out batting’. That’s what he says, that’s what he thinks. 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.
“We can look into it, but honestly he wouldn’t have gone out there unless we thought [he was okay]. We asked him over and over. I asked him privately, I asked him behind closed doors two or three times, I asked him in front of the group, he just goes ‘all good, all good coach, I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go’. What else do you do? The medicos cleared him, he wanted to get out there, we were looking after him, and he said ‘honestly I’m ready to go, my arm’s a bit sore’. That’s why he went out there.”
The Australian team was visibly shaken by the episode, with its parallels to the death of Phillip Hughes when hit in a similar part of the neck at the SCG in November 2014. “You never like seeing your players get hit like that, no doubt about that,” Langer said. “It was obviously some pretty rough memories of a blow like that, so there’s no fun in it.”
With that in mind, Langer reckoned that Smith would have to rethink his reluctance to wear a stem guard on the back of his helmet, of the kind widely introduced in the wake of Hughes’ death. The blow he suffered from Archer at Lord’s may well have been softened or at least partly deflected by the extra protection, which is optional rather than mandatory under the game’s regulations.
“Very good question,” Langer said when asked whether he thought the guards should be mandatory. “I didn’t realise, it might be my error but I didn’t realise they weren’t mandatory until today. I think Steve 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.
“I’m sure after today it’ll get talked about again, I know they came in after the tragedy of Hughesy. So I’m sure it’ll get talked about, and he might rethink it now after seeing what happened today, but you’d have to ask him that. At the moment the players have a choice, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they become mandatory in the future.”
As for how the blow and Archer’s brutish spell might influence Smith and the remainder of the series, Langer admitted that it had to have some effect on the former captain’s mentality, but was equally adamant that Smith would find a way to deliver his own riposte later in the series. Smith was cleared of any fracture for the earlier blow to the arm, and will undergo subsequent concussion testing before play on the final day.
“I can only go from experience. When you get hit, it’s always in the back of your mind, no doubt. Any batsman who tells you it’s not is a liar,” Langer said. “But he is also the sort of person who will do everything from now until the next time he bats, whether mentally or visualising or practising, to be right. He loves batting, we saw that masterclass the other day – no one is going to stop him batting, so he’ll practice it, work it out, and hopefully he’ll get back into it.”
Der v Ess: Second semi-final match-ups
Derbyshire and Essex have never played one another in T20 cricket, meaning that any player-on-player match-ups that the captains devise with rely as much on the franchise circuit and player types as individual battles from seasons past. Here is where the game will be won and lost…
Ravi vs Ravi
Ravi Bopara has been a reluctant No. 6 for Essex, but has been outstandingly good in the death overs this season. Before the start of the 16th over, he has scored 15 off 20 balls against seamers and 30 off 31 against the spinners; after, he has a superhuman 148 runs off 70 balls against pace and a Liam Livingstone-boosted 35 off 13 balls against spin.
The positive news for Derbyshire is that in Ravi Rampaul, they have the competition’s best death bowler. Rampaul’s 126 balls at the death have yielded just 142 runs this season, giving him the best economy rate of anyone with more than four overs in that phase; throw in a tournament-best 14 wickets in the final five, and it is evident that he will hold the key for them.
The key for Derbyshire, then, is to get Bopara early – or ideally, after he has chewed up 12 or 15 balls, but before his conversion from middle-over nudger to death-over superstar; Rampaul should be well-equipped to deal with the rest, but in Bopara he may meet his match.
How do you bowl at Dan Lawrence?
Dan Lawrence has a reputation as a brilliant player of spin, and there are only a few clues from his record this season as to how to bowl to him.
His scoring rates against seam and spin in the middle overs are almost identical (9.36 and 9.34 runs per over respectively); though his five dismissals against slow bowlers at that stage suggest it is worth turning to legspinner Matt Critchley as an attacking option.
One spinner or two?
Adam Zampa’s return to Australia to play in the domestic 50-over competition leaves Essex with only Simon Harmer as a frontline spin option, with Aron Nijjar – a 24-year-old slow left-armer, with one career T20 to his name – the likely second-choice option outside of the part-timers.
But with Wayne Madsen the key man for Derbyshire, it is worth considering whether Nijjar is worth picking simply for the angle he offers. Madsen’s Blast record against both pace and spin is remarkable, as you would expect for a man striking at just short of 150 with an average of 49.66.
The key is to get him in early – he scores relatively slowly against pace in the powerplay – but with a relatively conservative scoring rate against left-arm spin (8.40 runs per over in the Blast since 2017) compared to right-arm spin (9.79), right-arm seam (9.40), or left-arm seam (9.37) in the middle overs, captain Harmer might be tempted to turn to Nijjar as a specialist Madsen-getter.
Harmer’s difficult hand
With his two overseas players – Zampa and Mohammad Amir – both missing, Harmer faces an almost-impossible situation in terms of working out who to bowl when.
Only Bopara has an economy rate for the tournament below nine out of the options available, and it may well be a case of damage-limitation with the ball.
The crucial consideration will be the need to attack. Only three teams (all of them eliminated) have scored more slowly at the death than Derbyshire in the competition, and their top four have scored an enormous 79 percent of their runs off the bat this season. It is trite to suggest early wickets will be key, but in this case it is also true.
Harmer might then consider bowling Matt Quinn in the powerplay. Quinn has been in and out of the side, and is expensive in the first six (economy rate 9.75) but has also taken five wickets in his eight powerplay overs. He represents a high-risk option, but as underdogs, Essex might feel the need to gamble.
Bopara has also been a banker in the first six – 24 balls, 24 runs conceded, three wickets – while Harmer himself has excelled at the death (economy rate 7.41). Shuffling his underwhelming pack is not an enviable task, but all three are options that the skipper should consider.
Not v Wor: First semi-final match-ups
Nottinghamshire go into Finals Day’s first semi-final as favourites with the bookmakers, but have struggled in recent games against Worcestershire. Player-on-player match-ups and tactical phases are a crucial part of modern T20’s vocabulary: here are the battles to watch out for…
How do Notts solve a problem like Moeen?
It may seem unlikely to those used to seeing him struggle against Nathan Lyon with a red ball and white clothing, but Moeen Ali is an excellent player of spin in T20 cricket, and his five Blast innings this season have brought him 312 runs with a strike-rate of 175.28. Clearly, he is the key man for Worcestershire on Saturday.
The pace-off option offered by Steven Mullaney may prove a good one for Notts – he has gone at under a run a ball against Moeen in the Blast – though after he missed the group stage due to injury, picking Mullaney would be a big call.
In the past three years, few teams have risked offspin against Moeen early on, but he has only scored 22 off 23 balls against it in the powerplay, so Notts should persevere with their tactic of using Matt Carter in the first six overs.
At the death, Moeen’s scoring rate is 14.52 runs per over since the start of 2017 – if he takes the game deep, Notts are in serious trouble.
Bowl left-armers to Whiteley
Ross Whiteley is yet to find his best form in the competition, but still has a strike-rate of 151.96. He destroys right-arm pace at the death, but struggles comparatively against fellow southpaws.
His scoring rate against left-arm spin in the middle overs is a conservative 7.30 runs per over, and against left-arm seamers at the death he is out every 7.9 balls he faces. It might make sense, then, to use Patel against him when he first comes in, before turning to Harry Gurney (though more on that below) and Luke Wood at the death.
Whiteley also takes the best part of ten balls to get set. His strike-rate five balls into his innings is just 82.55, but after a few sighters he can fly through the gears; Christian should start with an attacking field rather than letting him knock a single off his first few balls as is his wont.
Hatching a Hales plan
If Moeen is Worcestershire’s undisputed star, then Notts will expect similar heroics from Alex Hales, who has an immense wealth of experience playing worldwide.
The good news for Moeen is that there is a clear chink in Hales’ armoury with regards his relatively poor record against left-arm spin in the Blast: in the past three years, he has faced 24 balls from left-arm spinners in the middle overs, scoring 29 runs for three dismissals. The bad news is that Worcestershire have no such bowler in their squad.
And that issue does not extend to all balls turning away from the bat: in the last three Blast seasons he scored at 11.14 runs per over against legspin in the middle overs, so Moeen should not be tempted to use Brett D’Oliveira unless he has a cunning masterplan.
The best player-on-player match-up available to Worcestershire against Hales is either Wayne Parnell, whose 17 balls against him in Blast cricket have yielded only 19 runs, and one wicket, or indeed Moeen himself. Moeen has bowled 22 balls at Hales in all T20, giving up 21 runs and dismissing him twice; though one of those came only thanks to a physics-defying AB de Villiers catch in the 2018 IPL.
Adapting to Gurney’s threat
Gurney is the most important bowler at the death for Nottinghamshire, and Worcestershire would be well advised to try to manufacture a match-up that works against him for the last five overs.
Since the start of 2017, Gurney’s figures at the end of an innings are brilliant, but there is a reasonable split between his efforts against right-handers (economy rate 8.62) and left-handers (10.50) in that phase.
It would be worth making sure that Parnell, Moeen, or Hamish Rutherford manufacture the strike in a right-hand/left-hand partnership at the death when Gurney is bowling, while the difference in his records adds a further layer of importance to how Notts deal with Whiteley’s threat.
Whiteley’s record against Gurney is very good, and he is the best death hitter out of Worcestershire’s lefties; he is the man most likely to take him down.
Waqar looks to reignite chemistry with Misbah
When Waqar Younis twice served as the Pakistan head coach in the past – 2010 to 2011 and 2014 to 2016 – Misbah-ul-Haq was the Test captain on both occasions. Three-and-a-half years since his last stint with the team, Waqar has returned to the support staff set-up as the bowling coach and Misbah is now the head coach.
Waqar will, as a result, work under Misbah after the PCB overhauled the support staff that was led by Mickey Arthur until the World Cup. Waqar and Misbah have shared a cordial relationship and the former fast bowler brings with him loads of coaching experience. This will be his fifth term in the Pakistan support staff, having served twice as the head coach, as the bowling coach in 2006-07, and the bowling and fielding coach briefly in 2009-10.
His two stints as head coach had not ended on a good note earlier as he resigned both times before the end of his tenure. In 2011 he stepped down amid differences with then limited-overs captain Shahid Afridi and in 2016 he quit after a dispute with the PCB’s management following that year’s T20 World Cup.
Will working under Misbah be a “demotion” of sorts for Waqar? He doesn’t think so.
“As far as thinking like it’s a demotion, it’s only a myth that you go up or down,” Waqar said. “Our goal is how to make Pakistan a better team. For me the exciting thing is to try and help some of the promising youngsters who are in the pipeline, and some more who will come in the near future too.
“You come directly under a head coach as it’s his domain and you work according to his mindset. The others are helping hands like the fielding coach and bowling coach. We will try to help Misbah as much as possible and move forward.
“In three years lots of things have changed,” Waqar said when asked what made him come back. “The format has changed in domestic cricket, new people have come, there are new coaches, new thinking has come. I am not here to make controversies, I will try to make the Pakistan bowling attack a good one.”
Waqar clarified that he wasn’t “mentally ready” to apply for the post of head coach again and he knew that Misbah was the main contender for the job. Waqar applied for the bowling coach position and he was the main candidate after another shortlisted applicant, Mohammad Akram, withdrew at the last minute.
“I decided that I wasn’t mentally ready to get back into the set-up [as head coach] so I applied for bowling coach,” Waqar said. “I think I have a very good chemistry with Misbah, I’ve got a very good understanding with him and it will help in the future. The PCB has given Misbah an opportunity and it’s our responsibility to support and back him because he’s a very honest man and passionate about the game.
“My role is very simple and well-defined. I had done both the roles as a head coach and a bowling coach so I have an idea. The best thing is that I know about Misbah’s mindset because whatever coaching I had done was with Misbah as the captain.”
Their first assignment together will be two limited-overs series against Sri Lanka starting September 27 in Karachi with three ODIs followed by as many T20Is in Lahore next month. Currently, Waqar and Misbah are holding a training camp at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore where Waqar is working with young fast bowlers.
“The emphasis of the camp is on training and fitness, we are always focusing on fitness with our bowlers,” Waqar said. “We have bowlers in the pipeline like Mohammad Hasnain and Nasim Shah and in the next few months they will come on the scene.
“The best thing is Sri Lanka is coming, it’s a plus for Pakistan, and other teams should also come. Our short-term goal is that we should win matches early on and build the confidence.”
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