Steve Smith was forced to retire hurt in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s after a titanic tussle with Jofra Archer ended with the batsman floored by a 92.4mph bouncer, only to bravely re-emerge after a brief break in dressing room.
Smith was on 80 not out on the fourth afternoon, his latest epic knock of the series, when he was struck in the neck by a steepling delivery from the debutant.
Smith, who had already received treatment for a nasty blow on the left forearm and fended off a lightning fast 96.1mph ball aimed at his ribs, hit the deck immediately and remained on the floor for an extended period before stumbling to his feet.
Members of both teams’ medical staff attended to him and the 30-year-old was eventually persuaded to leave the pitch, despite being seemingly reluctant to do so.
Smith was applauded from the field, with his side 55 behind on 203 for six.
While most people were expecting Test cricket’s first ever concussion substitute to appear, Smith surprised everybody by retaking the field as soon as Peter Siddle fell to Chris Woakes.
Even more remarkably he hit his first two balls for four, clubbing Woakes to wide long-on then easing into a backfoot cover drive before eventually falling lbw to Woakes for 92.
The passage of play midway through the afternoon session was almost impossibly tense, with the state of the game relegated to secondary status as Smith and Archer, recent team-mates at Rajasthan Royals, went head to head.
Smith, who occupied the crease for 11 hours during his match-winning twin centuries at Edgbaston, had already chewed through another 143 deliveries to frustrate England when Archer cranked things up to the next level.
Bowling fast and straight with the old ball he drew a rare misjudgement from Smith, who ducked into a short one and sustained a heavy blow to the left forearm.
He winced in pain and shook his head, stopping to receive treatment as physios massaged the bruising and supplied painkillers.
An over of left-arm spin provided the buffer before Archer went again, testing Smith with a series of precise bumpers aimed at the body and each comfortably above the 90mph threshold.
Smith took on the first and top-edged a hook straight over the wicketkeeper for four, then mis-hit the second to fine leg, having again taken the aggressive option.
The last ball of the over, Archer’s 25th of the innings, was the most remarkable yet, clocking in at a quite incredible 96.1mph – surely the fastest recorded delivery by an English bowler in a generation.
It was also accurate, zoning in on Smith’s rib cage, only to be expertly guided downwards in the direction of short leg while not offering a hint of a catch.
Smith took the upper hand momentarily at the start of the fateful 77th over, swivelling to pull Archer for four and paving the way for a decisive reply.
Once again Archer went short and, although Smith shaped to duck, he got himself into an awkward position, eventually turning his head as the Dukes ball reared up under the protected area and crashed into the lower part of the neck.
Smith’s limp tumble to the turf could not help but conjure chilling reminders of his late team-mate Phil Hughes, who died five years ago after being hit by a bouncer while batting for South Australia.
Thankfully Smith was eventually able to get up, even appearing to argue his case for remaining in position.
Once replays showed the extent of the contact, and with Archer ready and willing to send down more of the same, that was never a likely option and he was led to the pavilion to sounds of applause.
Rather less impressively there were audible boos when he returned to the middle after 54 balls away, Woakes taking Siddle’s edge.