Fewer than 1000 people were at the SCG a little less than five years ago when Phillip Hughes was hit on the neck, paused a few moments on his feet, and then collapsed. At the time we did not quite know what we were watching, the full horror of the moment only emerging in the subsequent minutes, hours and days.

It was impossible for the mind not to flash back to that moment when, in front of 28,000 spectators and many many more following the broadcast, Steven Smith was also hit on the neck and instantly fell to the ground. For a few terrible, interminable moments, cricket stood still.

First to reach Smith was Jos Buttler from short leg, then the non-striker Pat Cummins and the England slip cordon. Jofra Archer, author of a spell of rare speed and hostility that had already seen Smith struck on the forearm, kept his distance. As it emerged that Smith had remained conscious, and that he would soon return to his feet to be assessed by the team doctor Richard Saw, there were even a few awkward smiles and nervous laughs cracked among the hosts.

"You kind of get a feel as a player when someone gets hit by the noise as much as anything, you could hear it was more fleshy, around the neck sort of area and when that's the case you're immediately worried as a player," Chris Woakes said. "There were guys that were close to the action, Jos being at short leg he knew straight away and was straight on to him to check he was okay, which was nice to see. You don't wish that on anyone."

There were none, however, on the Australian balcony. Among their number were Brad Haddin, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, David Warner and Travis Head. All played in that November 2014 Sheffield Shield game, where on the first day everything changed. In public view, their faces wore looks of concern but also masks against emotion - the mess of emotions all experienced in 2014, but had to hide after a while to return to the game. The former captain Michael Clarke has reflected that his career was more or less over once he had thought about it all.

"I shouldn't have played another game. My career should have stopped then. It was too hard for me," Clarke said in 2017. "It took me a lot longer to grieve his loss than it should have, or that I would have liked. I didn't allow myself to grieve at the time because I had responsibility to his family, firstly, but then also as Australia's cricket captain to my team-mates and getting us back out onto the field. My greatest strength as a small boy growing up and all through my career was that I was never scared.

"The faster they bowled, the easier it would be to score. I liked batting without a helmet on occasions; they'd bowl at your head and I'd love playing the hook or the pull shot. Even if it was just my subconscious, when I lost one of my best mates playing the game that we love, I think my subconscious worked out that you can actually die playing this sport. Even if it was the smallest bit of fear, you can't play at the highest level like that."

It's a fear that many have had to push to the back of their minds in the ensuing years, some better than others. For Smith, who did not play in that match but had to do his own share of grieving and reflecting in private, the contemplation of the moment needed to share headroom with working out whether or not he had been concussed - something that would have forced him out of the Test match - or merely hit a stunning blow to the back of the neck. Speaking to Saw, he mouthed the words "I feel great", though with an expression that indicated the opposite.

At length, the decision was made to get Smith off the ground. For further treatment and to take stock. There were boos from some quarters of Lord's, uncharitable in the extreme, but mostly applause and relief that he was okay. A little over half an hour later, the television cameras that had beamed Smith's hit around the world found a close-up of him in the Australian dressing room, watching the game through the window. He looked pensive, sore but also reflective. So too were we all. In 2014 we did not know what we were watching. In 2019 we did, and a repeat was too dreadful to contemplate.

Tellingly, though, Smith was still in his whites. And at the fall of Peter Siddle's wicket, his unmistakable gait could be seen re-emerging through the Lord's pavilion doors. Surely not, many thousands seemed to say. But there he was, smiting boundaries from his second and third deliveries back, and moving into the 90s. The official word about what had taken place indicated that Smith had passed the bar set for concussion tests.

"Steve was hit on the neck below the left ear," a Cricket Australia spokesman said. "He was assessed lying on the pitch at the instructions of team doctor Richard Saw. Dr Saw made the precautionary decision to remove Steve from the field of play to have him further assessed under Cricket Australia's head impact protocol. Steve then passed his assessments and will now be monitored on an ongoing basis, as is routine."

Concussed or not, Smith's return to the middle was to be as brief as it was stirring. It ended with the sort of misjudgment he almost never makes - lbw shouldering arms to a Chris Woakes delivery that nipped back at him. Archer, meanwhile, had warmed back up but was not required to bowl again. This little postscript was odd, and will raise a few more questions about exactly how much Smith had recovered from the earlier blow.

"I suppose it is strange because he hasn't left anything on the stumps all series so far," Woakes said. "Whether he was ... he'd just come back out, he hoyed me over midwicket for one bounce four, whether he was at that point trying to get to three figures as quick as possible not too sure, but it's a tough one to answer. He hasn't left one like that so far."

But for the most part it was proof that, as horrible as the moment was, it was nothing on what we saw in 2014, when we did not quite know what we were watching. Cricket stood still at Lord's, but we are endlessly grateful that it was soon moving again.