Australia’s marvel and crisis man, Head again proves why he’s a cult hero

January 21, 2024

Who needs Steven Smith when you have Head? He is proof that not all superheroes wear capes

Travis Head
Travis Head

This was it. The sum of all fears for Australia. The reason so many people were up in arms about the team selection ahead of the Adelaide Test against West Indies.

Cameron Green, batting at No.4 for the first time in Tests, nicked a beauty from Shamar Joseph to fall cheaply in the second over of the second day. Australia were 67 for 3 - another 121 behind on a tricky pitch - with their firewall Steven Smith already out the night before, having fallen to the perils of opening the batting for the first time.

But who needs Smith when you have Travis Head? Australia’s moustachioed marvel, their man for a crisis, came to the rescue yet again to deliver another century for the ages when no one else could.

Head is proof that not all superheroes wear capes. He doesn’t look like Pat Cummins, who resembles Clark Kent off the field and Superman on it. He doesn’t look like Mitchell Marsh, who has reminded of the incredible Hulk during his recent heroics with the bat.

He looks like Travis Head, a simple bloke from South Australia. The closest superhero he resembles with bat in hand is the swashbuckling swordsman Zorro, only if Zorro was the son of Simon and Ann Head, and grew up in Craigmore in Adelaide’s northern suburbs.

But time and again, Head has rescued Australia in the clutch moments and the toughest of conditions. In Hobart in 2022, he walked to the crease at 12 for 3 in the first innings, and thrashed a match-winning 101 on a pitch where only one other player passed 50 for the entire match. In Brisbane later the same year, he smoked a defining 92 when only one other player passed 38 in a match that lasted two days.

In the World Test Championship final at The Oval last year, Head walked out at 76 for 3 after Australia had been sent in, and ripped the game from India’s grasp in four hours of scintillating batting in an innings of 163, albeit with the help of Smith on that occasion. In the ODI World Cup semi-final and final, he delivered in nerve-jangling chases, by hitting 62 and 137, respectively. His century in the final came after Australia had slumped to 47 for 3, with the new balls zipping around corners under lights.

And come Adelaide in 2024, Head was here again — in his hometown, in front of his home fans, delivering another stunning counter-attacking century to pull Australia out of the mire, as none of his team-mates passed 45 against a West Indies attack that bowled superbly on the back of a debut five-wicket haul from Shamar Joseph.

The repetitiveness of Head’s rescue missions would be in danger of becoming monotonous if he wasn’t so absorbing to watch. It truly is edge-of-your-seat stuff. He never, at any stage, looks in complete control. Even in full flight where nearly every ball looks like it could disappear to the rope, it feels like the line between triumph and disaster is a razor-thin edge.

His style of batting, by all conventional wisdom, should not survive the treacherous surfaces on which he thrives. Some had wondered, after a lean series against Pakistan, whether his luck was drying up, albeit he has a long line of credit in the bank.

But the way that he plays helps him make his own luck and suck his opponents into error. West Indies had delivered on their pre-game promise to be disciplined with the ball, and bowl fuller than they have in the past in Australia. And Joseph led the way by bowling beautifully throughout. Five of Australia’s top seven nicked off, and at 168 for 6, there was a moment when a first-innings deficit was not out of the question.

But while the bowlers had consistently challenged Australia’s outside edges on the front foot at one end, with captain Kraigg Brathwaite supporting them with attacking fields — including an ingenious close-catching third slip that accounted for Marsh — they got it wrong to Head, as so many of his opponents have.

Head’s ability to hit a good ball for four strikes fear into the heart of an opposition bowler. And while he flailed on the front foot early in his innings in Adelaide, with plays and misses and near chop-ons occurring with regularity, West Indies did not stick to their guns.

They did what so many opponents had done to him before, trying to bomb him on the back foot with a field spread far and wide. While Head has always looked awkwardly uncomfortable against short-pitched fast bowling, he never fails to find the boundary, and only rarely gets out to it. Just as South Africa, England and India have tried, West Indies tried that too and failed.

Head thumped pull shots and cut shots with tremendous power; he even played skillful ramps and streaky slashes to a vacant deep-third region.

Moreover, with three men back on the fence on the leg side, he rendered them all useless, instead offering three catches to the adoring crowd in the Members’ Stand on having cleared the rope with ease. Two of those sixes had come after the Adelaide Oval had risen as one when Head had reached three figures for the seventh time in Test cricket, and for the second time at this ground. Head has become a cult hero Australia-wide, but has always been adored more in Adelaide.

The applause was warm and genuine for Joseph’s five-for too, but it came after their true hero had left the stage and given Australia a likely match-winning lead.

The sum of all fears had surfaced, and Travis Head had squashed them yet again. –Cricinfo

Australia’s marvel and crisis man, Head again proves why he’s a cult hero