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Travis Head has done more than we all think he has — believe it

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Travis Head deserves a shot - he's earned it

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Travis Head has done more than we all think he has — believe it

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Anirudh Suresh

01/04/2021

If you think about it, Travis Head has had the most fascinating career. No, seriously.

At 18, he makes his first-class debut. Three years later, at 21, he strikes a List A double century, and almost immediately afterwards, he plays that knock in the BBL against the Sixers which is, to date, considered the greatest night in the competition’s history. Soon afterwards he gets an IPL contract, makes his Australia debut and is regarded as an AB-esque middle-order dynamite. Next thing he knows he’s chucked out of the middle-order and placed up top, where he’s scoring centuries and stitching 300-run record stands with Davey Warner.

This also ends prematurely for some reason and he’s evicted from the limited-overs set-up altogether, so now he’s blood into the Test side. He’s scoring these 30s, 40s and 50s, out of the blue he’s made the vice-captain, then randomly replaced in the final Ashes Test by Mitchell Marsh, after which he establishes his place in the side firmly. Now people are calling for his head again. And oh, in the midst of all this, he also endures the pain of captaining a god-awful South Australian side. 

Well, that’s Travis Head’s career summary in 177 words. Completely uncalled-for, but here’s the deal: he’s been in the headlines of late. Why? Because, the Aussies; they want him gone. After 19 Tests and a dozen encores, they are frustrated with Head holding the ‘youngster’ and ‘future’ tag and continuing to fail to convert starts and let the team down with his shot selection. (Call him the Aussie Sanju Samson for all you want).

With the series on the line, the last thing, they feel, they need is one of those (un)promising 35s from Head putting the side in a spot of bother at the wrong time. You know, one of those “giveth and taketh away” knocks - and he does this a lot - which gives false hope. With both Warner and Pucovski now available, and with Green flexing his talent at the MCG, they feel it’s time for Head to be axed, with Wade taking his spot in the middle-order. 

So, are the fans right in calling for Travis’ Head? Is he really thaaaat bad? Does he have any redeeming qualities? Well yes, he does. Down below is a 1432-word justification citing why his contributions have mattered, and why he deserves more than being dropped after 3 failures. 

Why we can sympathize with Head and why we feel he needs a rope

A picture is being painted that Travis Head is a mediocre cricketer. Spoilers: he’s not. There’s a reason why he’s in this Australian side. In 19 Tests he averages almost 40, and this number increases to 46.66 at home. Since he debuted in 2018, only 9 cricketers have scored more Test runs than him, and amongst Australians, Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith are the only middle-order batters to have averaged more than him. And yes, this includes Matthew Wade. We’ll get to that in a bit. 

But before that, it is important to understand how much Head has laboured since his debut. 9 batsmen might have scored more runs than him in the last two years, but no one - and we mean absolutely no one - has had to work as hard as Head for their runs. There literally hasn’t been a moment in his Test career where Head’s had the opportunity to score ‘easy runs’. There’s no denying that he is guilty of scoring these 30s and 40s, but let’s delve into that a bit and find out why even those knocks have been extremely valuable. 

First things first, Head had a nightmare of an introduction to Test cricket. He made his debut away in the UAE - in which he scored a match-saving 4th innings 72 - after which he was left to swim all by himself in the 2018 Border-Gavaskar Trophy.  By Australia’s embarrassing standards in that series, he did well, finishing as the second-highest run-getter behind Marcus Harris, but while he was indeed guilty of playing a few bad strokes and not converting his starts, the importance of his knocks in that series cannot be downplayed. 

72 at Adelaide: Walked in at 87/4 with India firmly on top. Batted for the vast majority of the knock with the tail and was the penultimate man to get out (235/9). Propelled a 150 score into 235 and kept Australia in the game.

58 at Perth: Walked in at 148/4. Australia had lost 4 wickets for 36 runs after being 112/0. Arrested a collapse, put on a 84-run stand with Marsh and ensured 300 was well within reach. Australia went on to win the game. 

34 at MCG: Walked in at immense pressure, yet again, this time with the score 63/3, with Australia needing to chase 399 in the fourth innings. Steadied the ship, strung a 51-run stand with Marsh and faced 92 balls - the third-most by any batsman across the last 2 innings in that match - before falling. 

Okay, he emerged out of this India series as a shining light. Barring Harris, no Aussie batsman came remotely close to showing resistance against the world-class Indian attack as much as Head did. Next up was Sri Lanka at home. An easy prospect on paper, but in reality, it was anything but that. Why? Here’s why. 

84 in Brisbane: Walked in at 82/4, with Australia having lost their Top 3 and Nathan Lyon. Then put together a 166-run stand with Labuschagne and perished when Australia were 272/5. Missed out on a ton, but he ensured the game, by then, was won. 

161 in Canberra: Walked in in the worst scenario imaginable, with Australia 28/3 on the morning of Day 1 on a spicy wicket. Then put together a 308-run stand with Joe Burns (who himself scored 180) before throwing his wicket away with Australia 336/3. Again, job done!

He scored an easy 59* in the second innings of the same match - oh he walked in at 37/3 there, too, by the way - before moving on to the Ashes. Ah yes, Ashes 2019. Things are going to get spicy.

So we know Head was dropped for the fifth Test at The Oval. He only averaged 27.28 from 8 innings that series, so statistically, you’d think his dropping was justified. But was he really thaaaat bad?  Or were his knocks, though underwhelming, valuable? 

35 at Edgbaston: First day of the Ashes, overcast conditions, walked in to bat at 35/3, with Australia having lost their Top 3, and Stuart Broad on song. Arrested the collapse, sucked England’s momentum and stitched an invaluable 64-run stand with Smith before perishing with the score 99/3. 

51 at Edgbaston (second innings): Came in to bat at 75/3, with Australia still trailing England by 15. Batted England out of the game by stitching a 130-run stand with Smith, before perishing with the score 205/3. Job done yet again!

42* at Lord’s: Walked in at 47/3 on the final day with Australia having to bat the whole day to save the Test. No Steve Smith, mind you. Stitched a 85-run stand with Labuschagne to kill time,  but the situation escalated post the concussion sub’s departure. 132/3 soon became 149/6 and Australia were in serious danger of throwing the Test away in the final hour. Head, however, ensured that didn’t happen, by batting 90 balls - staying firm and the crease and remaining not out. Job done. Match saved.

The Lord’s 42* would turn out to be Head’s best knock of the series - scores of 0, 25, 19 and 12 in the next 4 innings led to his axing in the fifth Test - but an injury to Mitch Marsh meant he kept his place for the home summer, where, again, he played vital hands.

56 vs New Zealand at Perth: First Test of the series, pink ball, game in the balance at 225/4. Head negated tricky overs in the twilight, before putting on a 76-run stand with Labuschagne to help Australia edge ahead. He perished for 56, but his graft enabled the tail to wag and get the total beyond 400. Yet again, job done.

114 vs New Zealand at the MCG: Put into bat on a surprisingly lively MCG wicket, Australia at 216/4 with, again, the game is in balance. First Head strung together a 68-run stand with Smith, then a 160-run stand with Paine, batting New Zealand out of the game. He brought up his second ton and was named Man of the Match. Job done. 

Okay, this is all he has done thus far in his Test career. Now let’s talk about the India series.

Undoubtedly Head has been disappointing and he has not lived up to his expectations. The 38 he scored in the first dig at the MCG, for instance, would have been acceptable had he been a rookie, but he is not one anymore. He has close to 20 Tests under his belt. His shot selection has been preposterous and he’s had the knack to make fans face-palm with his choice of strokes, all throughout his career (remember the slash to the third man off Ishant in Perth 2018? Yeah, those kinda moments).

However, he definitely has done enough to warrant a longer rope. How long he can be given a pass is something that’s up for debate - he is 27 and there are limited spots in the side - but he’s played far too many valuable hands to be axed after three failures. 

With Green now seemingly a lock at No.6, it will come down to Wade vs Head for the No.5 spot should both Warner and Pucovski get back to full fitness. Now Wade is the popular choice because he is a doughty b*stard who scores tough runs, because he is a born leader and because he seldom throws his wicket away like Head does. But statistically, there is very little that suggests that the veteran will do a better job. 

Since his return to the side in Ashes 2019, Wade has averaged 35.00 in 12 Tests and has also, like Head, been guilty of ‘not making it big’. Astonishingly in 10 of the 21 knocks since his return (47.6%) Wade has been dismissed between 15 and 40, including in each of his last three knocks, granted he batted out of position. Wade for Head at No.5 might be fair, but it is far from a magical fix that will yield great returns. 

So what should Australia do for the SCG Test? Ideally, keep both Wade and Head and only bring in Warner. The prospect of drafting in Pucovski is mouth-watering, but the Victorian, unlike Burns, will not be replacing someone out of nick - Head averages 65 this Shield season and has a 171* and a 151 to his name. 

Travis Head’s time might be running out, but he has enough credits in his bank to get through the rest of this series. 

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