'It's about ticking off facing pace bowling' - Steven Smith prepares for recovery from concussion

Says Australia's spirits remain high despite an online threat against Ashton Agar

As he prepares for the final hurdle in his recovery from concussion, Steven Smith hopes a long-awaited Test tour abroad can help shrug off an "odd couple of years" and rekindle his vintage form during Australia's historic visit to Pakistan.
With the first Test in Rawalpindi starting on Friday, the 32-year-old needs to get through Australia's first training session of the tour on Tuesday to guarantee his availability. Smith will face pace bowling for the first time since suffering a concussion on February 13 after landing on his head following a spectacular diving attempt to save a six during the second T20I against Sri Lanka.
During Australia's training sessions in Melbourne ahead of the tour, Smith faced side-arm bowling and spin on his return from the nasty head knock, which ruled him out of the remainder of the five-match series.
"It's about ticking off facing pace bowling," he said. "Once that's done everything should be fine. It's progressing nicely."
Smith detailed his recollection of the scary incident at the SCG, where he dived full length back on the deep midwicket boundary, and the side effects he's endured since. The vice-captain has a history of concussions, most notably after being struck by a bouncer from Jofra Archer and needing to be substituted out of the Lord's Ashes Test in 2019.
"I knocked myself out for a few seconds," he said. "When I came to, I was in a weird state. I knew straightaway I was likely concussed having had a few knocks to the head.
"I've had headaches and drowsiness. A couple of Fridays ago, I had a vertigo incident where I was struggling for a bit that day. I've had the Epley Maneuver and got the crystals back where they're supposed to be in the inner ear.
"After that, things sort of settled down and progressed really nicely. I've been able to do the exercise stuff I need to get myself back to that ready to play state."
It has made for a difficult preparation for Smith, who is eyeing a return to form after a lacklustre Ashes, where he managed just 244 runs at 30.5. This was the first time since September 2017 that his Test average dropped below 60.
While his struggles against England were perhaps excusable amid bowler-friendly conditions, Smith's rut started after his heroic Ashes in 2019 - the last Test tour for Australia.
Even though his lean 14-Test run includes just one century at 36.86, Smith remains confident believing Australia's disrupted schedule since the Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to his lack of rhythm. Australia have been limited to nine Tests over the past two years, while Smith has played only 18 Tests since the infamous Sandpaper scandal four years ago resulted in a 12-month ban for him.
"I love getting on a roll and being able to play a lot of cricket and finding my groove," said Smith, who averages 57.1 from 39 Tests away from Australia. "It's been an odd couple of years having not played away since the Ashes in 2019…it's hard to fathom.
"I pride myself on my performance away from home. The last away tour I performed really well in the Ashes and hopefully I can replicate something similar in this series."
Smith said Australia's spirits remained high in the aftermath of an online threat against spin-bowling allrounder Ashton Agar, which was investigated by authorities and not deemed a risk.
"We are feeling incredibly safe here in Pakistan and we'll be guided by our security and people we trust around us," he said. "We had a team barbeque last night, it was amazing. The food was sensational. It's been really good so far.
"I'm just excited to be here in Pakistan and bringing Test cricket here as an Australian team."

Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth