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Feature

Head's lessons from last week: back your plans and stay calm

"Think my game has come a long way from limited experiences in Pakistan and Sri Lanka," he says after a promising knock in Indore

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
03-Mar-2023
Travis Head has made plenty of bigger scores in the last 18 months, but a pair of 40s in the past couple of weeks could be among the most important innings of his Test career.
It might be easy to scoff at that notion, but Head was left out of the opening match of this series in Nagpur based on his struggles last year in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. While it was possible to justify based on numbers, it did feel like an element of over-thinking from Australia.
Even his recall in Delhi was described in curious terms as being as much to do with his bowling as his batting. He began that game in his usual middle-order spot - flashing an edge to slip against Mohammed Shami as he tried to continue his aggressive approach from home soil - before events transpired through David Warner's concussion to see him open in the second innings.
He played superbly on the second evening to put Australia ahead in the game, transferring pressure onto India's spinners who erred in their line and length. However, early on the third day, R Ashwin landed a perfect offbreak that nicked the edge. There was little Head did wrong. It was the start of Australia losing 8 for 28. But it had given Head a template.
In the first innings in Indore he was lbw playing back to Ravindra Jadeja and then in the first over of the third day he saw his in-form partner, Usman Khawaja, edge Ashwin much as he had done in Delhi. A target of 76 loomed as something more significant.
But Head responded with a superbly balanced innings, trusting his defence as India bowled well for 10 overs before sensing the moment to unleash the shackles which coincided with a ball change. Head went from 5 off 24 balls to 49 off 53 when the winning runs came. If there had been the slimmest of chances for India, Head's take down of Ashwin ended those.
"If I could take anything out of last week, [you've] got to make sure you back your plans, stay as calm as you can and know that things are going to happen over here," Head said. "[I was] just waiting for that moment. They didn't bowl a bad ball for 10 overs. I knew it was going to be difficult for the next bloke, you'd just want to make the right decisions at the right moments. I thought I was able to navigate through that period well, they bowled some bloody good balls, [I was] lucky to get through them.
"That was the luck I was looking at with Delhi, thought I played really well and one ball he spun, bit like Uz today. You hope you play and miss and you get a little nick. Those things happen, you have to accept them over here. You just try to get through his best ball. Was able to get through that period and wait for some opportunities to score."
Since Head's resurgence as a Test batter during the 2021-22 Ashes, he has played a number of pivotal innings in demanding circumstances, starting with the thrilling 152 in the opening game of that series at the Gabba followed by a century on a well-grassed Hobart surface. Perhaps his best, though, was the 92 he made against South Africa in Brisbane in a game that lasted even less time than Indore.
But he had gone away from his instincts in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, often found stuck on the crease and worked over by the spinners, which led to the situation of one of the world's highest-ranked batters not lining up in Nagpur. Head had previously spoken about responding to that adversity and now he has something tangible to show for it.
"Think my game has come a long way from limited experiences in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. You learn, you become better, [and I] feel I've done that," he said. "A big score next week would be a nice way to cap it off but let's just wait and see what the wicket is like. A pair of 40s on challenging wickets where we've been under pressure have been nice."
The middle order beckons again for Head later this year, but when Australia next tour the subcontinent for Test cricket, to Sri Lanka in early 2025, he can expect to be in the frame to resume his opening role. And after how this tour began for him, that's quite a turnaround.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo