Steve Smith allayed any lingering concern about concussion with a match-winning performance in his first match of the new Indian Premier League season.
The Rajasthan Royals captain, who missed all three of Australia’s one-day internationals in England after he was hit on the helmet during a net session in Manchester, showed no ill effects as he hit 69 to open his account in the delayed tournament being played in the United Arab Emirates.
His second-wicket partnership with Sanju Samson of 121 proved key as the Royals beat the Chennai Super Kings by 16 runs in a match that produced a record-equalling 33 sixes.
Smith, who opened the batting, hit four of them while Samson hit nine in a quickfire 74. South African Faf du Plessis counted seven sixes in his 72 off 37 balls for Chennai, but it was not enough as the Super Kings mustered just 200-6 in response to the Royals’ 216-7.
It was an encouraging performance from Smith, whose participation in the IPL had been under a cloud until he passed a concussion test on arriving in the UAE straight from the UK.
“Absolute pleasure to bat with him. He is the world’s best batsman,” said Samson. “And when he goes out and bats 20 overs, it becomes easy for the others coming in.”
The star batsman was struck on the helmet while batting in the nets a day before the first ODI in Manchester. Despite the 31-year-old passing multiple concussion tests in following days, he was ruled out of all three games.
Australia were extra cautious in protecting Smith given the frightening blow he received from England tearaway Jofra Archer during last year’s Ashes.
“I think the protocols are really strict and sensible and that’s how it should be,” Australia coach Justin Langer said on Monday. “No one in the world loves playing cricket and batting more than Steve Smith does.
“When he didn’t play the first game, I told him it’s very likely that it will rule you out for the whole series because we had to play three games in five or six days.”
Australia’s senior assistant coach Andrew McDonald is coaching the Royals this year and will keep a close eye on Smith.
“Fantastic news that Steve is available. It’s fantastic especially on the back of some setbacks back in the UK,” McDonald said before the game. “It’s obviously great to have your skipper available for the first game as I’ve said before we are in really good hands.”
The news for Australia teammate Mitch Marsh was not as encouraging after the all-rounder was forced from the pitch with a potentially serious ankle injury in his opening IPL game on Monday.
Marsh, playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad against Royal Challengers Bangalore in Dubai, turned his right ankle while trying to stop a drive from compatriot Aaron Finch after bowling his second delivery.
The 28-year-old managed two more balls before limping from the field, although he did manage to get out to face one delivery with the bat at No 10 as Hyderabad battled to stave off the 10-run loss to Virat Kohli’s side.
“Doesn’t look great,” his captain David Warner said. “A lot of courage from him to walk out there and try his best, but it was unfortunate tonight. He’s got to get an X-ray, hopefully it’s not too bad. Obviously what you saw out there, it was quite painful, he can’t put any weight on it. Fingers crossed.”
This year’s IPL, which was originally scheduled to begin in March in India, is being held in the United Arab Emirates due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Marsh would have been hoping for a good run of matches in Dubai before he heads back to Australia to try to force his way into contention for the much-anticipated home Test series against India.