83 NO.1 FOR SPORT Head rises as the air apparent
WHEN I first saw Travis Head, he was an under-19 Australian cricketer playing at the 2012 World Cup in Townsville. He was a skilful left-hand batsman but his habit of hitting balls in the air through, rather than over, the infield looked likely to weigh as an anchor on his career. He’s detached the anchor now and is a far different batsman as he tries to become a valued member of the Australian team. While his fellow lefthanders seemed hellbent on advancing Ravi Ashwin’s reputation as a serial pest to molly dukers, Head picked gaps in the field to advance the score. Where the batsmen ahead of him had been constrained by the steady Indian attack, Head was able to make progress with deft touches early, then as his confidence grew, a string of well-timed drives through the off side. He was also one of the few batsmen in this Test to find his timing early in his innings. His calmness when facing Ashwin suggested lessons had been learned from a recent visit to the UAE. Overall his batting displayed the air of a young
player who had learned from bitter experience that it’s wiser to keep the ball on the ground when facing good teams.
With Australia desperately in search of batsmen who can be relied upon in the Test arena, Head’s progress was an encouraging sign.
The other factor contributing to Head’s improvement was his appointment as South Australia captain. He was given the difficult task at age 21 and there’s nothing like having to think for 11 instead of one to improve your cricket acumen.
It probably also didn’t hurt Head that his first Test in Australia was at his home ground; this perhaps accounted for his timing being in place from the start of his innings.
Having led Australia to within touching distance of India’s first-innings total, Head was out for 72 — the same score as his best in the UAE series against Pakistan.
He showed his disappointment as he departed, but if he continues to make headway with his batting, he won’t finish his Test career with that as his highest score. Without Head’s diligence and skill, the effort of Australia’s probing bowling effort would have been wasted.
Australia’s pace trio expertly tempted the impetuous Indian strokemakers into expansive drives and the fielders did the rest.
The mantra of Australia’s pace bowlers is “extend an invitation to drive”. This is an excellent tactic stressed by Craig McDermott when he was the bowling coach.
If it wasn’t for Cheteshwar Pujara’s disciplined defiance, Australia’s teasing and testing bowling tactics would have had the team well on the way to a morale-boosting victory.
In response, if it wasn’t for Head’s homecoming present, Australia would have been facing a deflating defeat.
Already this series is shaping as one in which the bowlers will hold sway.
Test cricket is a better game when the first-innings score doesn’t exceed 350 — because it tends to concentrate the minds of the team bowling second and evolves into hardfought contests.
If the series continues in this vein it will be absorbing Test cricket and do much to rehabilitate the game in the eyes of the Australian public.
Without either Pujara or Head’s contribution, one team would now be languishing at the Adelaide Oval.
As it is the match is evenly poised, waiting for someone to apply the knockout blow.
Travis Head turns the ball to the leg side on his way to equalling his best Test score of 72 yesterday, and (inset) shows his disappointment at being dismissed. Pictures: GETTY IMAGES