England fast bowler Jofra Archer insisted he had no intention to hit Australia’s Steve Smith during the second Ashes Test, saying “everyone’s heart skipped a beat” after he felled the star batsman with a fearsome bouncer at Lord’s.
In a compelling passage of play on Saturday’s fourth day that saw World Cup-winner Archer, making his Test debut, repeatedly test Smith with the short ball, the 24-year-old Sussex quick produced a 92.4 mph (148.7 kph) bouncer that hit Smith on his unprotected neck. Smith, who fell to the ground, retired hurt after receiving onfield treatment.
But after just 46 minutes away, Smith returned at the fall of the next wicket before he was lbw to Chris Woakes for 92.
It was the first time this series that England had dismissed Smith for under a hundred after his innings of 144 and 142 in Australia’s 251-run win victory in the first Test at Edgbaston.
Archer was criticised on social media for exhibiting a lack of concern on the field for Smith’s well-being but in an interview with BBC Radio before Sunday’s final day, he insisted: “That is never the plan (to hit a batsman).”
“You are trying to get a wicket first. To see him go down, everyone stopped and everyone’s heart skipped a beat,” he added.
“After he got up he was moving around and you breathe a sigh of relief. No-one wants to see anyone getting carried off on a stretcher. It was a good challenge, a really good spell. For me, I wouldn’t like to see it end like that.”
Archer insisted he was just trying to force Smith out of his comfort zone. “I’ve never seen Smith get out of his own accord until yesterday, so I was just trying to rattle him,” he told Sky Sports.
“I was trying to get him out, I had a short leg and a leg slip and he was trying to work the ball off his hip, so if one bounces a bit more it should go to short leg, or one of the guys waiting.”
Smith was not wearing the additional neck guard on his helmet that came into use following the death of Phillip Hughes after his former Australia team-mate was hit by a bouncer in a 2014 domestic Sheffield Shield match in Sydney.
“You don’t ever want to see anyone carried off on a stretcher, or you don’t want to see them missing a day, or a game, especially with what happened a few years ago as well,” said Archer. “It’s never a nice sight.”
The build-up to this match had seen Australia coach Justin Langer question whether Archer had the stamina required for Test cricket, as opposed to one-dayers where bowlers are restricted to a maximum of 10 overs per match.
But Barbados-born Archer, coached at Sussex by former Australia fast bowler Jason Gillespie, returned fine figures of 2/59 in 29 overs where his speed rarely dropped below the 90 mph mark.
“Obviously a lot of people haven’t seen first-class cricket shown on TV, so they won’t know what I’m used to doing anyway,” Archer said Sunday.
After stumps, Langer praised Archer’s performance by saying: “His endurance was outstanding today, his skill, his pace.
“To be able to bowl 29 overs today, what a great effort. Time will tell whether that has an impact,” he added, with only a few days between the end of this match and Thursday’s start of the third Test at Headingley.