Knocked down, but not out - A review of the ICC’s new concussion replacement regulations

Published 18 October 2019 By: Edmund Gross, Thomas Cleeve

Cricket Player

In what was a sensational summer of cricket, the sport also saw the first use of a ‘concussion replacement’ in the international game.1 Steve Smith, the Australian batsman, was hit in the neck2 by a bouncer from English fast bowler, Jofra Archer, during the first innings of the second Ashes test at Lords. The ball narrowly missed hitting the part of his neck that so tragically caused the death of Phillip Hughes. Smith came back out to bat after undergoing a medical examination but looked out of sorts and was out LBW on 92 shortly afterwards. His condition worsened that evening and he began to suffer symptoms including headaches, dizziness and drowsiness3. The medical team stated that, despite passing three concussions tests immediately after the incident, Smith had suffered a delayed reaction to the impact. Australia made the decision to use a concussion replacement and Smith did not feature in the second innings.

This article examines the background to concussion replacements, explains how the new regulations operate, and discusses several talking points that will no doubt emerge with their introduction to the game.


Concussion replacements are a relatively novel concept for cricket having been approved in all formats of men’s and women’s international cricket and first-class cricket worldwide by the International Cricket Council (ICC). This came after a two year trial in domestic cricket culminating in the decision for it to be included in ICC playing conditions from 1 August 20194.

Undoubtedly, the tragic death of Phillip Hughes drew the issue of head injuries to the forefront of discussion within the world of cricket. Notably, the issue of concussion replacements was raised in the subsequent review that was held after his death.5 While no formal recommendation was made within the review, as the terms of reference did not extend to matters involving the rules of the game, the point was drawn to Cricket Australia’s attention. When on 11 May 2016 Cricket Australia released the independent review into the death of Phillip Hughes, they also stated,

“[t]o support medical staff further, Cricket Australia has suggested a concussion substitute be permissible for domestic cricket. It is understood that the ICC Cricket Committee will consider this and related issues at their next meeting on 31 May.”6

Since then, there has been a steady momentum towards bringing in concussion replacements to the game. It was not an immediate development, however, and it was clear during the 2019 World Cup in England that action was required as two further incidents drew attention to head injuries and intensified the debate.7 The first involved South Africa’s Hashim Amla being hit by Jofra Archer. The other related to Afghanistan’s Hashmatullah Shahidi, who was hit in the head by a bouncer from England’s Mark Wood. In Shahidi’s case, he appeared to ignore medical advice to leave the field and continued to play.8 In Amla’s case, he did go off the field but later returned to the game. Notably, concussion replacements were introduced to the international game only a few months later.

The ICC’s new regulations

The ICC has made it clear that concussion replacements are allowed in all formats of the professional game. At present, they have only amended the Test Match Playing Conditions, but similar updates to the rules of other formats should follow in due course. The relevant regulations for concussion replacements in Test Match format can be found at Section 1.2.7 of the ICC Test Match Playing Conditions (and Section 8 of Appendix A to those Conditions). Pursuant to Section 1.2.7, concussion replacements are permitted in the following circumstances:

  1. the head or neck injury must have been sustained during play and within the playing area;

  2. the concussion or suspected concussion must have been formally diagnosed by the Team Medical Representative;

  3. the Team Medical Representative or Team Manager shall submit a Concussion Replacement Request to the ICC Match Referee on a standard form which:

  1. identifies the player;

  2. specifies the incident;

  3. confirms that, following an examination, the Team Medical Representative believes or suspects that the player has sustained a concussion as a result of the incident; and

  4. identify the requested Concussion Replacement.

  1. The Concussion Replacement Request must be submitted within 36 hours of the incident if a Concussion Replacement is to be permitted.9

The Concussion Replacement must be a like-for-like replacement for the player who sustained the concussion or suspected concussion10. Hence why Smith was replaced by another top order batsman, Marcus Labuschagne. Cricket is unusual as unlike many other sports there are no substitutions. So, you cannot substitute a bowler who is bowling badly or even who is injured with a new one not in the starting eleven. You can have a replacement fielder to ensure you have 11 players on the pitch at one time, but that replacement fielder can do nothing more than field. So, if a team’s bowler gets injured (not concussion) then that team would be a bowler light for the rest of the game. As an aside, this in the authors’ view seems a somewhat dated rule that adds relatively little to the game.

It would appear from the Regulations that the like-for-like replacement will need to be nominated at the outset of the game. Regulations 1.2.2 and 1.2.3 state that substitutes and concussion replacements need to be nominated and must be eligible to play for the particular team. However, the requirement to use a nominated player as a substitute may be bypassed with the consent of the opposition captain.

Section 1.2.8 addresses the issue of like-for-like which states that the ICC Match Referee (this is not the umpire) should ordinarily approve a Concussion Replacement Request if the replacement is a like-for-like player whose inclusion will not excessively advantage his team for the remainder of the match. In assessing whether the nominated player should be considered a like-for-like player, the Match Referee should consider the likely role the concussed player would have played during the match, and the normal role that would be performed by the nominated replacement.11 If the Match Referee believes the replacement, when performing their normal role, would excessively advantage their team, the Match Referee may impose such conditions upon the identity and involvement of the replacement as he/she sees fit, in line with the objective of facilitating a like-for-like replacement.12 A hypothetical example of this could be where a touring team is only able to provide an all-rounder as a concussion replacement for a batsman; in this scenario the match referee may restrict the all-rounder from being able to bowl. The Match Referee when reviewing a Concussion Replacement Request, may request any such further information as may be required in order to make his/her determination.13

The decision of the Match Referee in relation to a Concussion Replacement Request is final and neither team can appeal it.14 Once the decision has been made, the concussed player will play no further part in the match15 and the concussion substitute is immediately able to bat or bowl. A recent example of this was when the West Indian batsman Darren Bravo was concussed after being hit on the head and Jermaine Blackwood came out to bat as a concussion replacement in the same innings16.

For those interested in statistics, both the concussion replacement and the concussed player shall be considered to have played in the match.17


In the authors’ view it is absolutely right the ICC have adopted the concussion replacement policy and it constitutes a vitally important procedure to have in place. In many respects, cricket is slowly starting to catch up with the rigorous rules that other sports have had in place for some time - for example, rugby’s concussion protocols (albeit, it is acknowledged that the concussion risks in rugby are greater).

First and foremost, the policy helps safeguard player welfare. The very nature of concussion means that, unlike a broken bone, it is less obvious and that is why it requires medical experts to make an assessment. The effects are not always immediate and, on many occasions, will not have obvious markings (for example, bruising) for the layperson to see. There can also be significant long-term effects from concussion that can be prevented or mitigated by swift action.

Secondly, the way the regulations have been drafted takes the pressure off the players. A player must have medical clearance before returning to the game. And with the team able to make a like-for-like replacement, players will no longer feel the need to try to ‘struggle on’ thinking that their team will be hindered being a man or women short. Taking the decision away from players, whatever the sport, is crucial to ensure player welfare.

It is probable that the like-for-like rule will generate some interesting talking points in the future. It is hoped and it seems likely that common sense will prevail in nearly all circumstances relating to like-for-like replacements. That should be the case given the overriding objective of the initiative is to help protect players. The rule is logical in that it aims to negate potential abuse or inadvertent advantages for the effected team. For example, it would be wrong if, having finished bowling, a bowler was concussed in a collision with another fielder and replaced by a top order batsman. However, it is acknowledged that the rule is not watertight: for example, if a touring side’s only spinner in their squad is concussed in the first innings of a test match, then the team will have obvious difficulties in trying to comply with the like-for-like rule.18 In such a scenario, the match referee could impose restrictions on the concussion replacement’s involvement, as discussed above. It may also be possible for the captains of the two sides to work out a compromise although it is acknowledged that this may not always be possible in a competitive environment.

Finally, in relation to amateur cricket19, the MCC stated on 5 March 2019 that,

“[t]he Laws of Cricket have not been changed specifically to allow for replacements after a concussion, although a replacement can be made with the opposition captain’s consent. The more awareness there is over the dangers of concussion, the more likely it is that such consent will be given”20.

In the authors’ view, replacements in amateur cricket are far more likely to cause controversy. Unlike in the professional game, teams often struggle to field a full team, let alone have a squad for the game. Consequently, there is far less chance of having a like-for-like replacement (albeit that in the amateur game it is not compulsory for the replacement to be so). In addition, it is highly unlikely that a medical professional will be present to give any indication as to the likelihood of concussion. It is hoped that club teams around the country will be pragmatic about this and that we see an overall decline in concussions as the quality of helmets, protective gear and playing surfaces improve.

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Edmund Gross

Edmund Gross

Barrister, Furnival Chambers

Ed has a busy criminal practice in the Crown, Magistrates’ and Youth Courts and has been instructed in a wide range of criminal matters. Those who instruct him have noted his meticulous preparation and he has been described as very approachable and professional in his manner.

During pupillage Ed was involved in the widely reported Pentonville Murder trial at the Old Bailey.

Ed has also been instructed on behalf of members of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association.

Through the Attorney General’s Junior Juniors Scheme, Ed has been instructed by the Department of Health and Social Care on work in relation to European Union exit legislation.

Ed has a keen interest in Sports Law. He sits on MCC disciplinary panels and recently had an article published in Football Legal, an international journal dedicated to football law. During pupillage he assisted in preparing for hearings at Wembley and research on legal issues for hearings and lectures. Prior to joining Chambers he worked on a case involving a number of high profile footballers and cricketers.

Ed is currently instructed by a firm to conduct a combined privilege and substantive review along with other assistance on the case, within the firm’s offices for one of their current corporate clients, a large multinational, who are facing an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.

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Thomas Cleeve

Thomas Cleeve

Associate, Pennington Manches Cooper

Thomas is an associate in the employment team based in London. He acts for individuals, corporate clients, and staff associations and their members, advising on a broad range of employment law matters. These involve both contentious and non-contentious issues, such as discrimination, whistleblowing, unfair dismissal, regulatory, and day-to-day HR matters, including handbook policies and other contractual issues. He also advises on the drafting and negotiation of employment contracts and settlement agreements and has assisted a number clients on their response to data subject access requests.

A member of the Employment Lawyers Association, Thomas has experience in the employment tribunal and the High Court. He plays an active role in the firm’s sports and entertainment sector group and has represented clients on anti-doping cases. He is also a member of the firm’s disability subcommittee.

Thomas qualified in 2019, having joined Penningtons Manches as a trainee solicitor in 2017.

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