DERBY: Australia star Steve Smith headed straight back into the nets after he was out for just 23 in his first innings since being felled by England fast bowler Jofra Archer and suffering concussion in the second Ashes Test.
Smith took to the crease in the three-day tour game at Derby on Friday, coming in with Australia 179-2.
His 38-ball knock ended when he sliced a drive off Matt Critchley, a leg-spinner whose previous 59 first-class wickets had come at an expensive average of 51.86, to Hamidullah Qadri, running in from the cover boundary.
Smith, who was in the middle for 47 minutes, struck two fours.
But the only five deliveries he faced that weren’t from a slow bowler came from medium-pacer Anuj Dal.
“It’s always nice to bat with ‘Smudger’ (Smith),” said all-rounder Mitchell Marsh — in the middle for the whole of Smith’s innings.
“I’m sure he had a bit of fun out there. He’s the best player in the world so it’s always nice to have him back,” added Marsh, yet to feature in this Ashes.
“He was just the same old ‘Smudger’.”
Smith kept his pads on following hs exit and was soon back in the nets.
Australia opener David Warner — not playing against Derbyshire — used the ‘dog-thrower’ device to simulate fast bowling as he sent down deliveries to Smith, renowned for his obsessive training regime.
“I think if ‘Smudger’ got 20 or 220, he would still want to go in the nets and have a hit,” added Marsh.
“That’s just him, that’s what he does and that’s why he’s the best in the world.”
Meanwhile Critchley, asked about the ‘secret’ to dismissing Smith, replied: “Bowl a half-volley outside off stump!”
Smith’s brief innings came on the same day as England great James Anderson was ruled out of the rest of the Ashes with a calf injury.
Anderson, England’s all-time leading wicket-taker, has not bowled in the series since breaking down with the injury after delivering just four overs in the first Test at Edgbaston.
This was former Australia captain Smith’s first match since being hit on his unprotected neck by a 92 mph bouncer from Archer during the drawn second Test at Lord’s.
– Smith uses neck protector –
But against Derbyshire he was batting with a stem guard neck protector on his helmet despite previously saying he felt uncomfortable using one.
His concussion injury meant Smith missed England’s dramatic one-wicket win in the third Test at Headingley where Ben Stokes’s stunning 135 not out saw the hosts square the five-match series at 1-1.
But Smith is now set to return for next week’s fourth Test at Old Trafford.
Smith’s absence was a huge blow to Australia in Leeds given their former captain’s sparkling form in his first Test series since completing a 12-month ban for ball-tampering.
Smith scored two centuries — 144 and 142 — in Australia’s 251-run win in the first Test and 92 at Lord’s.
His exit on Friday sparked a mini-collapse that saw Australia lose three wickets for 25 runs.
Critchley followed his dismissal of Smith by having Marsh caught at extra cover for 74 on his way to 2-47 in 13 overs.
But Australia were still able to declare on 338-5.
Cameron Bancroft was 36 not out and the in-form Marnus Labuschagne 39 not out.
At stumps, Derbyshire were 53-3 in their second innings, 113 runs behind.
Australia left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc, like Marsh yet to feature in this Ashes, pressed his claim for a recall with 2-16 in five overs.
In order to accommodate Smith and Labuschagne in Manchester, Australia may leave out Marcus Harris and promote Usman Khawaja, their stand-in captain against Derbyshire, to open with Warner.
Harris was run out for 64 on Friday when, having set off for a single, he was sent back late by Khawaja and failed to beat Dustin Melton’s throw from cover-point.
Khawaja went on to make 72.