Travis Head has revealed the years-old pledge made by Nathan Lyon that led to the most emotional of baggy green cap presentations in his Dubai debut, which featured a searching duel with Pakistan's spinners and a pivotal role alongside the peerless century of Usman Khawaja in Australia's great escape.
There have been all sorts of variations on Australia's baggy green cap presentation ceremony since Mark Taylor instituted it towards the end of his captaincy. None, however, have tugged at the heartstrings quite like than that of Head by Lyon. Choking back tears, Lyon described Head as "the little brother I never had", a description apt to a cricketer who has been on the path towards his Test debut ever since debuting for South Australia as an 18-year-old in 2012.
Captured on camera and relayed around the world, Head's cap presentation by Lyon was a memorable start to an even more memorable match, in which his second-innings 75 in partnership with Usman Khawaja was critical to saving a match that would have been lost without a record Australian rearguard lasting all of 139.5 overs. Reflecting on the start of his first Test, Head told ESPNcricinfo that Lyon was initially reluctant to take up the task, before agreeing with the help of the coach Justin Langer. Alongside the late Phillip Hughes, Michael Klinger and Tom Cooper, Lyon had mentored the teenaged Head with the Redbacks.
"JL asked me who I wanted to do it and I sighted it with him [Lyon] probably a week before, we were sitting next to each other on the bus and he said 'you don't want me to do it' and brushed it off," Head said. "And I didn't want to ruin his preparation, so JL asked and I said I wouldn't mind Nathan doing it, because we'd always spoken about playing Test cricket together.
"He'd always looked after me. It was probably him, Hughesy, Coops, Maxy Klinger, there was that core group of older guys who just took me in and I absolutely loved it. Nathan's playing Test cricket, Hughesy's playing Test cricket. I'm 18, and Gaz would ring me, Hughesy would ring me in the morning and I'm just in awe hanging out with these blokes. So it was just amazing. Then I lost them all, pretty much, which was disappointing, but me and Nathan kept in touch.
"One thing we always spoke about when we'd bump into each other, before even playing international cricket at all, he'd say keep nailing it, keep doing it, keep being consistent, backing it up and working really hard, because I want to play Test cricket with you, I want to tick that off. I want you to play Test cricket and I want to be there to experience it. So we'd always talked about it for a few years. He's been amazing, he's always pushed me, rides me pretty hard sometimes, but he just wants me to do as well as I can, and it was nice he could present it to me. Nice he took that up, and he actually got a bit croaky, and he got me going. He's been amazing to me, and he's a good mate, so it was nice."
Head's first Test was an enormous education in the space of a few days. Having endured through a Pakistan first innings that lasted more than five sessions, he looked nervous and out of his depth in his first visit to the batting crease, pushing hard at a Bilal Asif offbreak in the rough and edging to second slip for a duck. Following a post-play tutorial alongside the rest of the team's left-handers, Head worked at being more proactive and decisive, resorting to the sweep against Yasir Shah. While those attempts did not make contact, the tactic helped him gain breathing room against other deliveries, as he built a critical bulwark with Khawaja.
"It is a tactic that I've used a couple of times on day four in Shield cricket, only when the ball is spinning in really. Dutchy [Jon Holland] I've faced a bit in Shield finals and day four in Adelaide or the MCG where it's spun a little bit," Head said. "I've had success doing it, so it was just one of those things, I went back to what had worked, and it was mainly to try to get away from his best ball with blokes around the bat. He'd probably want me playing forward defence out of the rough and bringing his guys in around the bat, but I think being positive on his best ball was my best game plan, and trying to take him away from bowling his best ball.
"I'd spoken a couple days earlier about letting them bowl to me a bit [in the first innings], I want to make sure I'm pretty proactive and trying to get them off their best ball. So not letting him get in a rhythm when he was bowling into the rough and can bring more dismissals into play. I don't think I actually hit one, so I've had more success doing it. I had a top-up [net session] today, working on getting rhythm. It's a shot where you've got to have good rhythm on and I've been playing on spinning wickets on the Australia A tour and what not but I haven't really had to use it. I think I used it on day four in the second Australia A tour game with left-arm spin, but I also think that left-arm spin's a bit easier to hit it because obviously Yasir with legspin they traditionally put a lot more on it, and he got quite good dip and drift.
"So I was disappointed I was missing it, not hitting it, would've been nice to get up the other end as well, but on the other had I wasn't too fazed. It's a bit like the right-arm off spinner, I'm happy to get beaten on the outside edge, but extremely disappointed when I get beaten on the inside, which I did, but for the majority of my innings, you don't worry if you miss it. On a spinning wicket it's the same the other way, if I miss it and it hits my pad and I'm outside the line [of off stump] I'm not too bothered about missing the shot, its more about putting in his mind that I'm proactive, on the front foot and making him know that he's got to bowl his absolute best ball to try to get me out."
Having seen a way past Yasir, Head was unable to keep out his first, skidding delivery from Mohammad Hafeez with the second new ball, despite being very familiar with what was coming. In this Hafeez recalled a line from Jonty Rhodes about facing Shane Warne's flipper in the mid-1990s, where he said that despite being able to read the delivery due to the bowler's different thumb position, he still found it extremely difficult to play.
"That was extremely disappointing, we spoke about it the ball before I faced him. I'd faced him in one day cricket, he's exactly the same in one day cricket so I knew where he was going to go," Head said. "The discipline part with that is you've almost got to get through your first one or two balls of it, get a feel for the pace of the wicket [with a new ball], and I just wasn't able to do that.
"In the first innings, I'd worked extremely hard on my forward defence and got out caught in slips pushing a little bit hard, and did something I didn't want to do. In the second innings it wasn't the same mistake but I was working so hard at not getting beaten on the inside of the bat and doing it so well in facing 175 balls, to get done like that was extremely disappointing. The stage of it as well, the second new ball, if we get through that you get a feel for the wicket, it probably wasn't going to be as hard for Marnus with the threat of it skidding on, so it was quite a big moment of the game and very disappointing to get out when I did."
That left Head to watch the final, tense passages in the team viewing area, joining the assistant coach David Saker alongside the No. 11 Holland and trying to calm his nerves about perhaps being called out to negotiate the last few overs. Fortunately for Holland, Head and the rest of the Australians, Lyon was able to survive the final 12 overs in the company of the captain Tim Paine, meaning that the presenter of Head's baggy green cap had lived out the values he spoke of on the first morning.
"I sat outside next to Dutchy and Sakes [Saker] and it was quite relaxed, the best way for [someone on a] duck to be ready [to go in next]. We were trying to take the edge off and make sure he was nice and calm," Head said. "I had full confidence in the guys. We had a hiccup there where we lost a couple of quick wickets, but Nathan was unbelievable and he's been nightwatchman for so long and got a great forward defense. I had full confidence in the guys, a bit nerve-wracking towards the end, but as it went on and on the pressure was more on them to try to get the breakthrough and once you got through your first 20 balls it got more comfortable out there.
"There's no doubt we were up against it going into day five. It just showed great resilience, and it was nice to be one of the guys who contributed to that, but that's your job. That's what you expect. It was great to do the job for the team, what I expected to go out and do and it was really nice to do that, even though it was my first game.
"Usman was unbelievable and showed the class at the other end, probably the best I've ever seen anyone bat on day four and five in tough conditions, so either my first game or Usman's 34th, we knew what we had to do, so that wasn't a case of being inexperienced, it was something that wasn't unknown to me. I went out there with a simple game plan, a clear game plan and I was definitely a lot more positive in the first innings. I was a lot more calm and relaxed, which was nice, it was good to get to stumps in that last session and give us the belief we could do it."