83 NO.1 FOR SPORT Head rises as the air ap­par­ent

Sunday Herald Sun - - Cricket -

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

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