Australia in New Zealand 2015-16 February 23, 2016

Brukner foreshadows concussion protocol changes


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WATCH - Smith floored by bouncer

Australia's team doctor Peter Brukner believes cricket will eventually follow Australia's football codes and introduce a system in which players leave the field for concussion assessment after blows to the head. The assessment process was the subject of attention on day two in Christchurch, when Steven Smith was struck on the helmet by a bouncer from New Zealand fast bowler Neil Wagner.

Smith fell to the ground before getting to his feet again, and Brukner and Australia's physio David Beakley ran onto the field to assess whether he needed any treatment. After spending roughly five minutes on the field, Brukner saw no signs of concussion and decided that Smith could continue his innings, but he said further testing had been undertaken later that day and the next morning.

"There are things we look for, how well orientated they are, how alert they are, and there's standard questions that you always ask automatically," Brukner said after day four at Hagley Oval. "We took him through those. He answered all those questions perfectly. He seemed quite alert. We kept talking to him in that five minutes and by the end of that five minutes I was comfortable that there was nothing too serious going on."

The incident occurred in the last over before tea and Brukner also spent time with Smith during the tea break, as well as using a computerised concussion test called Cogstate after stumps that day. A test of cognitive function that assesses a wide range of areas including reaction times, Cogstate was again used to assess Smith before play on the third morning.

"We have baseline measures for all the players in the Australian squad. We did that again on that night, and we were able to compare that with his baseline. And there was no difference between what he did on Sunday night and the baseline. And he was feeling okay. I repeated that test on Monday morning, just because sometimes they have a delayed response and deteriorate overnight. Once again he felt okay and the test was okay."

Smith was also assessed at other breaks in play, and showed no signs of concussion. Brukner said that while there were "grey areas" in determining concussion, if he had any doubts he would not hesitate to rule a player out, as he did when Chris Rogers missed two Tests in the West Indies last year following a blow to the helmet at training, and he also took Rogers from the field following a blow during the Lord's Test.

"There are some very clear-cut concussions, they're knocked out and talking gibberish and so on, there are others who are absolutely fine. And there's a grey area," Brukner said. "I accept it's a difficult ... we would love a test to say yes that's a concussion, that's not a concussion. But we've got our symptoms, we've got our questions, we've got our computer tests, that's our package at the moment. That's what we go on."

Unlike cricketers, AFL and NRL footballers who suffer blows to the head are taken from the field for a 20-minute period to be assessed and reduce the risk of further blows in case of a delayed concussion reaction. Brukner said he expected that cricket would eventually follow the football codes and introduce such a system.

"There's a lot of things on the table at the moment about concussion subs and all that sort of stuff," he said. "It's complicated. I think the football codes feel that 20 minutes is about right. It would be nice to take someone off for 20 minutes. I think ultimately something will come in on those lines. I think it's got to, these days.

"The climate is out there and cricket will do it ... After that five minutes out there, if I'd had doubts, I'd have said come off - you can have a replacement, it's not as if you can't bat again - come off and we'll do a more thorough assessment. There was no indication to me out there that that was required. The next stage is to take them off and fully assess them. But he seemed fine to me, so I felt comfortable to keep him out there."

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @brydoncoverdale

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Richard on February 24, 2016, 3:21 GMT

    @ Mad_Hamish on February 24, 2016, 1:33 GMT

    "as far as 'not turning your head' that's a pretty instinctive reaction because while the helmet is designed to protect you from a front on impact there's a lot more fragile things in the front of your head than the back (eyes, nose being main ones) as for people wouldn't have done it before helmets there's a picture in The Art of Cricket of Tyson after he was hit in the back of the head by a Lindwall bouncer... "<---------One picture is no proof at all. Having watched cricket from about ten years before the advent of helmets until the present day I stand by my assertion that the helmet has made players complacent. Very few players were foolish enough to turn their head away and let the ball strike them at the rear of the cranium before then. Had they done so regularly there would have been multiple deaths, but there were not. Tyson was a bit of a bunny, and not at all representative of good technique.

  • Hamish on February 24, 2016, 1:33 GMT

    as far as 'not turning your head' that's a pretty instinctive reaction because while the helmet is designed to protect you from a front on impact there's a lot more fragile things in the front of your head than the back (eyes, nose being main ones) as for people wouldn't have done it before helmets there's a picture in The Art of Cricket of Tyson after he was hit in the back of the head by a Lindwall bouncer...

  • Richard on February 23, 2016, 23:14 GMT

    @ModernUmpiresPlz:- Indeed, if you watch the ball until the last moment any strike on the helmet is far more likely to contact the frontal hemisphere of said helmet, clearly a better option than taking the hit to the rear. Players that have grown up with the helmet seem to me like drivers who are not worried about avoiding car accidents because they believe the air bag will save them.

  • Graham on February 23, 2016, 17:30 GMT

    @Drew12 Are you sure you're on the correct site? For someone commenting on cricket you don't seem to understand it very well. First off, NZ's tactics were not Bodyline. Read your cricket history before making comments like that. And NZ did not bowl a full day or even a full session of short balls. That only happened in your fevered imagination. The short ball is a legitimate part of the bowler's armoury and batsmen have to be able to deal with it. If they can't, they don't last long at the top level.

  • carl on February 23, 2016, 15:32 GMT

    But aren't NZ considered the best at sportsmanship in cricket, playing within the spirit of the game? How come there has been no mention of the 7-2 field stacked leg side field and bowling body line and bouncers? Seems odd that it has gone virtually unnoticed, if the Australians employed such tactics for sure we would have an internet meltdown on espncricinfo.

  • Xiong on February 23, 2016, 15:01 GMT

    @Biggus Well if you're going to trust a helmet you're actually much better off getting hit right in the face than the side or back of the helmet, so looking right at it even if you're going to get hit is by far the best idea. Amla facing Johnson or even Jason Roy the other day facing Rabada for example. The grille and peak of the helmet provide by far the best protection and the shape at the front of the helmet is designed to deflect front on blows to avoid square on concussive impacts. The side and back... not so much. Also when players at silly mid on/off etc. turn around as their defense against a pull shot or a full blooded drive I just cover my eyes, I can't bear it. Joe Burns has good technique, face forward, huddled into a ball with his body to protect his chest. Someone is going to die spinning around and exposing the back of their head thinking that'll somehow protect them at silly mid on, it's just a matter of time if it keeps happening.

  • Drew on February 23, 2016, 14:47 GMT

    BEN INGHAM: The specific issue with Smith carrying on is a separate one to the short-ball tactics being employed. Obviously they checked him out and were happy and Smith was happy, so that was that. As others have pointed out since, perhaps there should have been more to it. Regarding the short-pitched bowling, my objection to that is two-fold. First, any 7-2 field is a cheap trick when proper attacking cricket has been blunted by the opposition. In India the 7-2 offside field is consistently employed to eliminate scoring opportunities against Australia and frustrate their batsmen into playing a reckless shot. Similarly, a 7-2 on-side field is employed in the same way. However, second, this leads to the issue of "Intimidatory Short Pitched Bowling" too, so is a more aggressive tactic. Both are designed to kill the game unless the batsman is prepared to take risks. This favours lesser teams obviously and kills the match for the spectator.

  • Richard on February 23, 2016, 14:25 GMT

    I'd be the last person to lament batting helmets as I well remember Peter Lever almost killing Ewan Chatfield back in the '70s, but I wince when I see modern players turn their head away and let the ball strike the rear of the helmet, something that they would never have done in the pre-helmet days. Players need to start thinking of the helmet as a last resort, not as an excuse to take a blow on the head, or another death is just a matter of time. Back when you had no alternative but to watch the ball like your life depended on it very few players were struck on the head, and it seems to me a return to that as a first line of defense would be a sensible approach. If that fails, then the helmet comes into play.

  • Harmon on February 23, 2016, 14:06 GMT

    A ton or a double or a triple ton can not be seen as enough inducement to take the risk of batting on after being hit and/or getting a concussion. Even a match victory should not be seen as good enough. Life of a human is invaluable and anything that we can do to avoid or mitigate a mishap should be done. Smith is in the form of his life and will surely score many more runs and tons. In the flow he may not have felt it and luckily nothing serious happened to him but at that moment he took a big risk. Call me a wuss but I strongly advocate the umpires and bowlers wear a light weight grill-mask to protect their faces from such hits. I remember a match where Ashwin got hit on his head by a Gayle shot and he still kept bowling. A Zim bowler lost his teeth due to such a hit. In 1996 WC SF final over, Richie Richardson hit the square leg umpire on his head with a ferocious shot. Players have been very lucky so far but I don't ever want any more Hughes or Lamba like tragedies.

  • Xiong on February 23, 2016, 13:56 GMT

    @Laslojams Are you sure about that? Ice hockey pucks aren't spherical and aren't hit over the same distances as cricket balls. As far as I'm aware of from my admittedly basic high school physics knowledge, retaining the size of the cricket ball but reducing its weight would change its flight quite a lot. To retain its flight path with a much lower mass it would have to travel off the bat significantly faster to travel the same distance given the same level of wind resistance and other frictional forces (which it would have, being the same diameter and shape, and spheres being far more wind resistant than a flat cylinder), thereby making it just as dangerous but now because its traveling much faster rather than being more massive. If you know of any research regarding similar spheres (not flat cylinders) and retaining flight path with a lower mass I'd be very interested to read it.

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