Steve Smith must overcome StemGuard anxiety

One of the most brutal and ugly sights this summer was Australia’s Steve Smith lying on the ground after being hit with a vicious Jofra Archer bouncer recently. The infamous incident happened in the 2nd Ashes 2019 Test at Lord’s. Smith, who was batting on 80 then, fell down and had to retire hurt. He had been hit on the back of the neck and was later diagnosed with a concussion.

The severity of the blow was such that Smith couldn’t take part in the 3rd Test of the series and is still undergoing recovery. When he had fallen down, cricket fans all over the world had their hearts in their mouths. After all, the incident was eerily similar to the one involving Phil Hughes in 2014. Hughes too was hit on the back of the neck while playing a domestic game in Australia – the blow eventually led to his unfortunate death a few days later.

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By his own admission, Smith too had the unpleasant memories of that episode flashing through his mind when he was hot by the bouncer.

“I had a few things running through my head, particularly where I got hit, just a bit of past came up if you know what I mean from a few years ago. That was probably the first thing I thought about then I was like ‘I’m OK here’ and I was alright,” Smith was quoted as saying.

In the aftermath of the Phil Hughes incident, the neckguard was designed for the safety of the players. The StemGuard neck protector, which was developed by British manufacturer Masuri, has become the most widely used and acceptable safety gear by batsmen these days. Made of plastic and foam, this safety guard can be clipped on the back of the helmet and provides protection to the back of the head which lies exposed otherwise.

Plenty of modern day batsmen use the StemGuard neck protector but there are many, including Steve Smith, who are not comfortable with it. Smith, who would be taking part in a warm-up match this week to get back into action was unwilling to use the StemGuard as it made him feel claustrophobic

The protective equipment makes the 30-year-old star Australian batsman uncomfortable and he compared it with being stuck in an MRI scan machine.

However, this is about safety more than comfort. Smith must realize that his own safety is more vital than wearing an uncomfortable protective gear that might actually save his life.

While boards have made it mandatory today for batsmen to wear the StemGuard neck protector, many still don’t do it. It is now up to the cricket boards to ensure that players are made to wear the safety equipment. Unsavory and unfortunate incidents like the one involving Phil Hughes and Steve Smith must be avoided at all costs. Bowlers won’t stop bowling bouncers. But batsmen can take proper measures to make sure that there isn’t at least any mortal danger to their lives while being on the field. The neck protector is certainly one way to go about it.

Hopefully, Steve Smith, and the others like him, will soon accept the utility of the StemGuard neck protector and use it uniformly. Safety, after all, is the most significant aspect of anyone’s life. Even a sportsperson.

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