“He crunched a 155-ball hundred to ensure Australia’s dominance over the Lankan Tigers who were thrashed to all part of the ground at the Manuka Oval in Canberra”
Almost three years back on the last night of 2015, Big Bash League was halfway into its fifth season, we got to witness one of the most special cricketing innings in recent times. Adelaide Strikers, needing 51 runs off the last three overs, romped home to a scintillating win over Sydney Sixers in front of their 46,389 home spectators. One man, wielding his willow like a gladiator’s sword, made the difference and scored every one of those 51 runs required and even went five runs ahead with three balls to spare. The man was 22-year old Southpaw from South Australia named Travis Michael Head.
It requires great character, grit, and immense self-belief to pull off a victory from such crunch situations. Gritty he was, as he swallowed 19 balls in that T20 inning to find his first boundary. Self-belief was evident as he remained cool-headed and backed himself to get that extravagant sum of runs despite only eighteen deliveries left to be bowled. That was a special effort from the youngster who immediately shot to fame, gathering eyeballs world over for his exploits in last fifteen balls. Although there isn’t any correlation between a player’s T20 exploits and his permanent place in the national team in all the three formats of the game, the very sight at the game of that 22-year old South Australian sparked a feeling that this boy is destined for big.
Fast forward to February 1, that short framed youngster is now donning the Australian whites with a baggy green relishing on his head, shouldering the weight of expectations from the whole of Australia to provide some stability to Australia’s fledgling middle-order which has been searching for a sturdy pillar to bear weight since the retirement of Mr. Cricket, Michael Hussey, right at the start of 2013. Interestingly, Head’s middle name is also ‘Michael’, the first name of the legend whose big boots he is expected to fill.
Though Head made it to the national colours almost immediately after that monstrous knock when he was included in the T20 side against a visiting Indian side. Later that year, he made his One-Day International debut against West Indies in June but it took him almost two years, since his ODI debut, to break into the Test side. His consistent performances in the Sheffield Shield, Australia’s premier domestic first-class competition, were finally rewarded when he was included for Australia’s UAE sojourn against Pakistan. He had a disastrous start to his red-ball career as he returned with a nine-ball duck but it was the second essay of that Test in Dubai which provided a glimpse of the talent he possesses.
Head made a patient 72 off 175 balls in the second innings and, along with Usman Khawaja and Tim Paine, helped Australia to walk away with a memorable draw. He couldn’t make much of an impact in the second Test as Australia succumbed to a 373-run defeat, effectively losing the series 1-0. The highlight of his UAE debut was the strengthening of the belief that he is a very good player of the turning ball – a quality so rarely found in non-Asian batsmen these days. His nimble footwork coupled with brilliant use of the crease against the spinners was the key to building this belief.
Head’s next assignment was the Border-Gavaskar Trophy against the top-ranked Test team in the world, India. As expected, he stood out as the silver lining, amidst an otherwise meek display of batting by the Australians, accumulating 237 runs in the series against a red-hot Indian bowling line-up. Each time the Southpaw walked out to bat, India usually had to grind hard to get him out. His efforts to put a hefty price tag on his wicket were visible as he chalked out two half-centuries in the series with one of them coming in a match-winning effort in Perth – the only win recorded by Australians in the humiliating 2-1 loss.
Head’s performance in that high-octane series made sure that he had his place secured in the eleven that was to take the field in the Pink-Test against a touring Sri Lankan side at The Gabba. The first Test saw his immense talent blooming once again as he returned with his career high-score of 84 from 187 balls but more importantly, he was involved in a match-winning 166-run stand for the fifth wicket with Marnus Labuschange. Those crisp cover drives (with the left hander’s elegance) and artistic square cuts ensured Australia’s recovery from a precariously placed 82 for the loss of four wickets to a match-winning total of 323. But amidst all the brilliance, the maiden Test Century, which will stamp his authority in the Australian middle-order, was still elusive.
Head had to wait for 63 first-class innings to register his first century but his first international hundred in the Baggy Green came in what was his just 13th appearance in the international cricketing arena. He crunched a 155-ball hundred to ensure Australia’s dominance over the Lankan Tigers who were thrashed to all part of the ground at the Manuka Oval in Canberra. With this hundred, he also became the first South Australian to crunch an international hundred since 2006 when his Adelaide Strikers mentor, Jason Gillespie cracked a double-hundred against Bangladesh.
Head’s was a crafty inning with the very right mix of caution and aggression. This is evident by the fact that his first fifty runs came at 4.16 runs per over with 29% attacking shots, next fifty coming at 3.75 runs per over with 42% attacking shots and the score between 100-150 came at a galloping pace of 7.57 runs per over having 73% attacking shots. As his innings progressed, he looked more secure and comfortable at the crease, giving some relief to the concerned corners of Australian cricket that all is not lost in the middle-order.
He was finally dismissed for a 204-ball 161-run marathon studded with 21 fours and a solitary six. Perhaps it was tiredness which brought out that lazy flick, missing upon which he was adjudged LBW to bring an end to a scintillating, finally the word can be used in this summer for an Australian batsman, display of batsmanship. His 303-run partnership with Joe Burns has effectively ensured that Australia can’t lose the game from here and the onus is, now on Sri Lanka to make a match out of it.
Nevertheless, Head’s classy display at the crease, which means that he now has a hundred and four fifty-plus scores in eight games, has effectively silenced his critics and has almost established him in the Australian setup, reserving his place even in the wake of Steve Smith and David Warner’s return to the cricketing fold. The future looks bright for the South Australian who has just been promoted to the vice-captainship of the team, meaning that the management, too, is looking to groom his leadership qualities so that they can be put to better use to secure the future of Australian cricket.