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Travis Head's journey from scarring near-miss to baggy green

"I think I've been pretty fortunate I've had a lot more ups than downs. Accidents happen, you make mistakes, but just make sure you're looking after each other and trying to make the right decisions as much as you can" Getty Images

Travis Head still bears the scars of eight stitches in his head and six across his back, lifelong reminders of a night outside the Lion Hotel in North Adelaide five years ago when he was extremely fortunate not to have his young career cut extremely short.

Hit by a car and sent flying across Melbourne Street at 1.45am, he was severely concussed and a bloody mess when he returned to his senses after spending some time unconscious. Surrounded by team-mates, including Callum Ferguson, Chadd Sayers and the late Phillip Hughes, after South Australia's win over Victoria that day, Head quickly realised how lucky he had been.

"He'd come round the corner and I did my best to try to get out the way," Head recalls of the driver he first glimpsed in his peripheral vision. "He freaked out and swerved the same way as I was going. I was fortunate enough to have my wits about me and jump, so I didn't break any legs or anything.

"I remember waking up with the ambulance being there. The boys were really good, so that initial shock went away fairly quickly. I was in pretty good hands with the medical staff and the ambos, and I knew quite quickly that it wasn't anything structurally done. I just had a big slice in my back and a cut in my head. They were stitched up, a couple of cool photos, a couple of bad scars now. I was sore for a few weeks.

"Two days later I got mum to drive me in to see the boys, because I was more worried about how they were going. I remember seeing Chaddy across the road and he would've just been watching me get cleaned up. I was sore for a while. The concussion thing hadn't come in yet."

At the age of 18, Head was already into his second season with South Australia's Sheffield Shield side, the archetypal young man in a hurry. Ferguson remembers the banged up teenager bantering from his hospital bed within an hour of the collision; Head made a point of trying to recover as quickly as possible so he could make his List A debut, for the Redbacks' next match, a 50-over fixture also against Victoria.

"I was probably in line to get picked in that team. I remember training on the Friday, it was 40°C, stinking hot in January. I was struggling a fair bit, getting very big headaches and whatnot. I was so keen to play that I swept it under the carpet. My stitches were still in. I didn't get picked. Chuck [the coach Darren Berry] said it wasn't because of [the accident], but I think it was.

"So I didn't get to debut in that game, but played and got a hundred in grade cricket, then went back into hospital that night and got all the stitches out. It was probably best that I didn't play. I was definitely still pretty rattled by it, had some big gravel rashes and scabs and I was definitely sore, probably still heavily concussed, but back then we didn't do the concussion tests or anything like that, so there was no real knowledge of that kind of stuff, even five years ago when it happened. A scary time, but got through it."

Not only did Head make a physical escape, but also one from the stigma of a drinking-related incident. For while he had been at the Lion for some time, a breath-test in the ambulance found him to be under the legal driving limit of 0.05 - a figure that doubtless also aided his recovery from the cuts, the bruises and the concussion.

The driver of the car did not fare quite so well. A 22-year-old South Australian National Football League player, Jackson O'Brien returned a blood-alcohol reading of 0.122, and in addition to being reported for aggravated driving, he would be sacked by his club after what his side's chief executive described as "a series of events in regard to alcohol". For Head, the line between fun and responsibility has been a prominent one ever since.

"Extremely lucky, extremely fortunate I made the right decisions that night and after it," he said. "It is something that quite easily could have gone horribly wrong and you find yourself in a bit of strife."

The good fortune Head enjoyed was to be thrown into even sharper relief some 18 months later when his housemate Hughes was to lose his life in circumstances still more random and tragic, struck on the neck by a short-pitched ball in a Shield match at the SCG. That trauma, for all in the game but particularly the competing teams from SA and New South Wales, is part of a patchwork of incidents that has given Head, at the age of 24, plenty of life experience.

"I definitely have gone through some hard stuff," he said. "I think I've been pretty fortunate I've had a lot more ups than downs. One thing is you've got to always have fun and enjoy it. Accidents happen, you make mistakes sometimes, but just make sure you're looking after each other and trying to make the right decisions as much as you can.

As South Australia captain, Head wants a similar attitude from his players. "We have a young group in SA and I want them to have as much fun as they possibly can doing it. As long as guys make the right decisions, keep being good guys and keep putting their best foot forward and being who they are is important to me."

The world in which Head has developed as a cricketer has been characterised by two things. First, the BBL has pushed the state season to the fringes of the summer. Secondly, Cricket Australia's search for talent has seen numerous players graduate rapidly on the basis of potential, a policy underlined by how Head became SA captain at 21, before he had scored a Shield century or pushed his first-class average above 30. His red-ball record since - 3431 runs at 40.84 with seven hundreds - bears little argument against a place in Australia's Test match plans without Steven Smith and David Warner.

Within that record is also a story of technical back and forth, as he has evolved from a short-arm puller and cutter to a batsman with a wider array of shots, most particularly a better developed drive down the ground, inspired in part by the cradle-like set-up of the former Test opener and fellow left-hander Chris Rogers.

"I remember I was almost like the cradle [with the bat], like him. I was young, I didn't really have a straight drive. I was pretty much through midwicket and through point and that was all I had. I'd just throw my hands at everything, and after probably half a dozen Shield games, I wasn't as consistent with it. So with Jeff Vaughan [former SA batting coach], I worked really hard on hitting the ball straight. We'd count how many straight drives I could hit in a Shield game.

"[Then] I went through a stage where I'd just drop my bat on the ball and be very robotic. I probably didn't hit as many cut shots in that period. I had a sequence of three 90s in a row. JL [Australia's coach Justin Langer] has spoken about being so mentally strong you cook yourself - you try so hard that you fry your brain. I was just concentrating so hard, I just couldn't bat, it wasn't enjoyable. I found myself with tight arms, getting sore and fatigued, so I thought, 'stuff it, I'm going to go back', with the new mentality, still fairly cradled. I'm still concentrating really hard on hitting the ball straight back down the wicket, and I've gone through the stage where I've matured, and in Australia when the ball is on the stumps I feel like you can hit it past the bowler."

Recently, while also working on his batting against spin, Head linked up with Rogers to work on another area of concern - combating the ball angled from around the wicket or from a left-handed bowler. Mitchell Starc has been one of several pacemen to trouble Head in this way, and in the UAE, Mohammad Abbas was another. In the looming limited-overs series against South Africa, Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn can be expected to test it also.

"We had one session in Brisbane just before we left for the Australia A tour [of India]," Head said. "Bucky [Rogers] talked about the alignment stuff. He said from over the wicket I looked really good but from around the wicket, my feet and body still lined up as though it was over the wicket. I hadn't thought about it.

"I've had a bit of trouble with Starcy getting me out quite a bit with the ball swinging late and swinging [across] the bat a bit from slip to mid-on. But after that session, through India and the UAE, it was something I was conscious of."

Head's batting method, his quiet Adelaide upbringing - he still enjoys relative anonymity in the city even after Adelaide Strikers won the BBL earlier this year - and the scars from his accident all form part of the story of him making it into the Australian side at a time when cool heads are required. He is out to make the most of a fortunate moment in North Adelaide, and a carefully planned emergence ever since.