Travis Head and the shots heard around the cricket world – Sydney Morning Herald

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As a teenager in the nets at his home club of Tea Tree Gully in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, Travis Head stood out for the crisp, shotgun crack of the ball against his bat.
That sound is now being heard around the world on a regular basis, as Head has become the middle-order buccaneer who can either capitalise on the soundness of Australia’s top order, or counter-attack in the event of early wickets on sporting pitches.
Travis Head takes to the South African bowling attack in Brisbane.Credit:AP
Head’s pair of rapid centuries against England at the Gabba and Bellerive Oval last summer, all proactive thinking and percussive stroke play, were arguably surpassed last week by an innings of 92 against South Africa in a Test match that took all of two days.
It was a contribution that vaulted Head past Joe Root on the world Test batting rankings, meaning that, alongside Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith, Australians occupy three of the top four spots on the ICC table.
That mark of achievement, the first time Head has notched more than 800 points under the ranking system, is a little less personal than another milestone he was extremely proud and a little disbelieving to have reached in Perth against West Indies: to have played, aged just 28, more Tests than his South Australian forebear Darren Lehmann’s 27.
If from different clubs – the older man was at Salisbury, later Northern Districts – Head and Lehmann share similarly blue-collar backgrounds.
Father Simon was integral to Tea Tree Gully CC, arguably leading to all the extra time young Travis spent around the club and the nets. His brother Ryan was a fast bowler of some promise, before injuries led him down the path of hospitality and ownership of a couple of Fasta Pasta restaurant franchises.
Stylistically, Head follows the footsteps of several SA left-handers with a penchant for fast scoring: Lehmann, as inventive as he was aggressive, sometime opener or wicketkeeper Wayne “Flipper” Phillips, and, of course, the late David Hookes.
All struck fear into the hearts of domestic bowlers, particularly when given latitude to hook, cut and heave the ball to the short square boundaries at Adelaide Oval. What makes Head a special case is that he is on the way to an international career far superior to any of his predecessors.
Darren Lehmann with Shane Warne in Sri Lanka in 2004.Credit:AFP
After Brisbane, it was noted that Head had become Australia’s fastest-scoring No. 5 batter ever, from a minimum of 20 innings, surpassing Lehmann. And that in the past 12 months only England’s Harry Brook and India’s Rishabh Pant have outpaced him.
Many have asked Head whether there is any particular instruction behind the way he has chosen to play, a diktat from the captain Pat Cummins, the coach Andrew McDonald or even the batting assistant Michael Di Venuto, who played with similar flair for Tasmania and Australia’s white-ball team.
But the truth is a little more layered. With a decade of first-class cricket and considerable years of state captaincy behind him, Head understands that his game is better suited to attack than defence, worrying bowlers with volleys of shots rather than sitting back and letting them test his ramparts.
In parallel, Cummins and McDonald have fostered an environment that is less prescriptive than the one that came before, encouraging players to do what they do best, after the selectors have first chosen a line-up with complementary qualities. Head feels more secure in taking the offensive to opponents in the knowledge that Smith, Labuschagne, Usman Khawaja and David Warner are above him in the order.
“The outcome looks like I got after it a bit, but I felt like it was calculated and the percentages were in my favour and I was able to take the opportunity,” Head said earlier this summer. “There have been some opportunities I’ve been able to take advantage of and fingers crossed I can do it again.
“I hold a lot of pride in trying to gain momentum or stem momentum when the bowling team is on top, or situations like that. I’ve had a lot of experience at first-class level, and there’ve been moments when I’ve walked out and been able to do that.”
Few seamers have lined up against Head more regularly than Scott Boland, who pointed to his teammate’s record against Victoria – 1319 runs at 48.85 in 15 Sheffield Shield games since 2015 – as an example of his ability to subvert a strong bowling attack.
At the same time, Boland said a bowler’s best hope of finding a way past Head was not to let his shot-making distract from the task of being as consistent as possible in the hope of drawing an error.
Travis Head’s 152 from 148 balls at the Gabba maintained a trend of Australia hurting England in the middle order at home.Credit:Getty Images
“It’s great to see him scoring runs so quickly, he can take the game away from any opposition in a session, and I think he’s shown over the last two summers that if there’s a bad ball he’ll put it away,” Boland said. “He can really put the bowler under pressure, and he’s done it against two of the best attacks going around [England and South Africa], so he’s going well.
“I’ve been playing against him for eight to 10 years and he’s got a good record against Victoria – a good record against most states because he’s a bloody good player. But he likes to take the game on, he likes to score all the time, he can hit your bad ball for four, so he can put you under pressure.
“My game plan is reverting back to the same thing all the time, and if I can be clear enough to execute the same ball over and over, then hopefully I can put enough pressure on him and get him out that way.”
The one area where Head is yet to surpass Lehmann, in particular, is to find a method for success in Asia that can go some way towards matching his impact at home.
Some fumbly Test innings in Pakistan and Sri Lanka resembled the spin struggles of Hookes, but in Head’s case there is mounting confidence he can find a way forward – most likely by taking the initiative as he does against pace.
“There’s things you can look back and work on,” he said. “Maybe I can be a little bit more like my white-ball [batting], be a bit more positive.”
On good days and bad, as a young father and committed partner to Jess, Head has also gained a world beyond the game he practised so obsessively at Pertaringa Oval.
Regardless of whether he is asked to take his cutlass to the top of the order in the wake of Warner, Head has established himself as a Test-match game-changer for Australia.
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