CA mandates neck guards for Aussie players

David Warner and Steve Smith among Australia's leading batters who must now wear the neck protectors they have resisted using since their introduction in 2015

Every Australian player in international and domestic cricket will be required to wear neck protectors from October 1, or face sanctions under new rules to be introduced by Cricket Australia.

Changes to CA's playing conditions for the 2023-24 season make it mandatory for batters in all CA-sanctioned competitions to wear the neck protectors that are fixed or fitted to the rear of batting helmets when facing fast or medium pace bowling.

The changes will impact several of Australia's international batters, including David Warner, Steve Smith and Usman Khawaja, who do not currently wear the protectors when batting. CA will make wearing neck protection at international training and matches mandatory via a change to its clothing and equipment regulations. 

Steve Smith did not wear a neck protector during this year's Ashes series // Getty

Of the current Australian white-ball squad in South Africa, Warner, Tim David and Josh Inglis are the batters who have not been wearing neck protectors.

CA had recommended the use of neck protectors since their introduction following the tragic death of Phillip Hughes but several veteran players have been reluctant to take them up. Smith, who was not wearing a neck guard when struck by Jofra Archer at Lord's in the 2019 Ashes, said that year they made him "feel claustrophobic". 

"I've tried them before and I tried them the other day when I was batting (in the nets) and I reckon my heart rate went up about 30 or 40 straight away," Smith said in 2019.

"I just feel claustrophobic. I compare it to being stuck in an MRI scan machine," Smith added before conceding" "I'm going to have to get used to them."

"I'm sure the more I wear them, the more I practice with them, my heart rate will come down and everything will be OK."

Warner said in 2016 that he does "not and will not wear" one because it "digs into" his neck and is a distraction.

Green forced from the field after Rabada blow

The update to regulations comes just a week after star allrounder Cameron Green was struck by a Kagiso Rabada bouncer on the neck guard fixed to his Gray Nicolls helmet and substituted out of the first ODI against South Africa with concussion.

The mandate is one of 12 changes to the playing conditions for the upcoming summer, which also includes scrapping the automatic six runs awarded to batters for hitting the Marvel Stadium roof in KFC BBL matches and instead let umpires decide if the ball was going to clear the boundary.

The neck protectors must now be worn when facing fast or medium pace bowlers in all Australian domestic competitions, including the Marsh Sheffield Shield, Marsh One-Day Cup, Women's National Cricket League and both the men's and women's Big Bash.

CA will also require players to wear them in international cricket when representing Australia both home and away, and although international umpires won't enforce the regulation like in domestic cricket, players could face sanctions under CA's code of conduct for a breach of CA’s clothing and equipment regulations. 

The regulation to wear neck protectors does not apply to batters facing slow or spin bowling, along with wicketkeepers and close-in fielders. However, 'keepers standing up to the stumps and close-in fielders have long been required to wear helmets.

The rule on neck protectors has been in place in English domestic cricket since October 2022, which caught Smith out during his first innings of his three-game county stint with Sussex prior to this year's Ashes when umpires stopped play for 10 minutes and required that he fit a neck guard to his helmet.

Smith did wear a neck protector while batting for Sussex, where ECB playing conditions made it mandatory // Getty

Peter Roach, CA's Head of Cricket Operations and Scheduling, said a lot of research and testing had gone into neck protectors and the governing body now felt the time was right to make them mandatory.

"Protecting the head and neck is extremely important in our sport," Roach said.

"The neck protector product has come a long way in recent years and the decision to make them mandatory comes off the back of a lot of advice and consultation with a wide range of experts and stakeholders.

"We've certainly seen over a period of time players wearing them and becoming accustomed to wearing them."

Among the other changes are the removal of the Covid substitute and amending the statement of result in white-ball cricket to include how many balls remaining in the run chase (or overs if the team batting second win with more than 59 deliveries remaining).

In Weber WBBL (with DRS in play) and BBL matches, third umpire referrals for stumpings will only review the stumping decision and no other methods of dismissal in a bid to minimise delays in play.

Captains can still ask the third umpire to check other forms of dismissal but will need to use their review to do so, with each team allocated one unsuccessful review per innings.

The fielding captain will need to let the umpire know if they'd like to review another mode of dismissal prior to the stumping review being sent up to the third umpire.

The BBL is one of the few competitions in the world to have reduced match times in recent years, with the average innings time dropping one minute across the past two seasons – from 86.94 minutes BBL|10 to 85.94 minutes in BBL|12 – despite the introduction of the Decision Review System last summer.

Another change to reduce delays in play in all competitions will see a time limit put on the amount of injury assessment and treatment a player (batters, bowlers and fielders) can receive on-field during a match.

Apart from head injury assessments, players will only be allowed one five-minute window to receive on-field treatment, after which they would be required to leave the field for any further treatment, meaning batters would be required to retire hurt or bowlers unable to complete their over.

Slow over-rates generally haven't been a problem in Australian domestic cricket in recent years unlike the issues that have plagued Test cricket – which saw both Australia and England suffer heavy fines and World Test Championship points penalties during the Ashes – with only two teams (NSW and South Australia) receiving a two-point deduction last season for slow play in the same match Sheffield Shield match.

"We've actively prioritised (reducing delays), we think it's really important to keep the game moving, we know that's what our fans want," Roach said.

"Especially in T20s we want quick, fast, action-orientated games – the fans want to see the ball in play.

"Something as simple as adding how many balls were left in a run chase can make cricket more accessible to fans as well as ensuring we are continuing to modernise our game."

And following the bizarre finish to last season's Marsh Cup season-opener where NSW kept bowling spin to try and get ahead of Victoria under the Duckworth-Lewis-Stern method with bad light preventing their seamers from bowling, the umpires will no longer invite fielding captains to bowl slow bowlers when light deteriorates after the minimum overs to achieve a result have been bowled.

Now, once the minimum overs to have been bowled (15 during the regular season and 20 in a final), if the umpires determine it is "too dark for fast bowlers, then it is too dark to continue".

Other changes to the playing conditions for 2023-24 include mandating an immediate drinks break if a wicket or stoppage occurs in the 10th over of a men's and women's Big Bash match (or over before drinks in a reduced overs match) in another bid to speed up the game, and an adjustment to how wides are adjudged so a batter's trigger movements will not increase the width the bowler has to utilise inside the wide lines.