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Who said Travis Head couldn’t bat in Asia?
After being dropped for the series opener in Nagpur, the 29-year-old put Australia in a commanding position at stumps on day two of the Delhi Test against India – one that was quickly given up on day three – by smacking a belligerent 43 (46) at Arun Jaitley Stadium.
David Warner was ruled out of the second Test on Saturday with concussion, and Matthew Renshaw replaced the veteran opener for the remainder of the match. But to the surprise of many, Head walked out to open the batting alongside Usman Khawaja for the second innings on Saturday evening, an idea that was floated ahead of the series.
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Following underwhelming tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka last year, Head’s batting average in the subcontinent had dipped to 21.30, and national selectors axed the South Australian for the Nagpur Test in a brave horses-for-courses move.
But after last week’s humbling innings and 132-run defeat in Nagpur, Head was recalled for the Delhi Test in a sheepish backflip, and the left-hander rose to the occasion by delivering one of the most important knocks of his career to date.
Tasked with surviving 12 overs before stumps, Head set about shifting the pressure back on India’s bowlers in a gutsy counter-attack, finishing the day unbeaten on 39 (40).
Head wasn’t afraid to play his shots, feasting on any overpitched bowling and slapping Indian spinner Ravichandran Ashwin over long-on for a towering six in the penultimate over.
He was brave against the new ball, but never reckless; he expertly used the depth of the crease when defending, with only a handful of deliveries beating his outside edge. According to CricVizHead played an attacking shot to 52 per cent of the deliveries he faced on Saturday.
This was only his third time opening the batting at first-class level in 256 innings, but national selectors would be tempted to keep him at the top of the order for the remainder of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy.
“(Head) always looks at the positives, he always wants to do the right role for the team in his best way,” Australian spinner Nathan Lyon told reporters at stumps.
“He was extremely confident coming into this game and that’s the Trav I love. I’m really happy to see him out there competing the way he is at the moment, I thought he was absolutely exceptional.
“I’m very proud to see the way he went about it, not just in Australia, but all around the world and in different challenges we’ve come up against.”
Head departed in the opening over of day three, prodding at an Ashwin delivery that turned sharply off the deck and kissed the outside edge, with Indian wicketkeeper Srikar Bharat holding onto a smart catch.
Although he couldn’t convert his start into triple figures, those 43 runs will help Australia set a precarious target for India in the fourth innings.
Head’s demolition was a stark contrast to what Warner has produced throughout the series — the 36-year-old needed 22 deliveries to get off the mark in the first innings, ultimately dismissed for a scratchy 15.
Warner, who is nursing an elbow fracture, is in a race to recover before the third Test in Indore — but Head’s explosive cameo and the imminent return of all-rounder Cameron Green may force a selection squeeze.
Three can’t go into two, and Warner, who has reached fifty just once in his 15 most recent Tests knocks, is at risk of being omitted.
Ahead of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, Head vowed to abandon the defensive mentality that plagued him in the subcontinent last year — and he stuck true to his word in Delhi.
“In one-day cricket, I’ve had good success in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. You split the series up and my white-ball was really good, so maybe being a little bit more positive in red-ball cricket,” he told foxsports.com.au last month.
“Being slightly more positive makes my defence a lot better.
“I was probably not quite as aggressive as I would have liked to be against spin in those series away … other than that, I think I worked really hard and had a sound game plan.”
Head has quickly built a reputation of scoring runs in difficult conditions for batting, most notably during last year’s Ashes Test in Hobart and this summer’s Gabba Test against South Africa.
“Trav just shows time and time again that he finds a way to score runs, whether it’s a seaming green top, like at Hobart last year, where no one else could score a run,” Australian captain Pat Cummins told foxsports.com.au ahead of the India tour.
“When a batter’s got that intent towards you, it’s really hard to be accurate. Your margin of error is so small.
“He can turn the game around in a matter of an hour. At times, even more so in India, that’s going to be really important. It might not be a hundred, but a really important 30 or 40 could be just as valuable.”
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