Travis Head plays fast and freely with England but lacks support | Australia cricket team

PMaybe he’s had his day, but one of the basic cricket comments was about which player you would like to beat for your life. For those from my vintage, it was still Steve Waugh. Chewing gum, trudging, planting his bundle of baggy green rags over his head, Waugh combed his gaze flat over a pitch and an opposing team as if he’d rather literally die than give them his wicket. He kept his average above 50 out of sheer force of will. He emerged as the ultimate stubborn bastard, the man who broke Jason Gillespie’s leg with his own face.

If you were playing the Bat For Your Life raffle, one player you would be terrified of drawing would be Travis Head. A one-way ticket outside of the Hunger Games for you. If Waugh embodied stubbornness, Head embodied slackness, constantly fiddling with the stump like a teenager who has just discovered the habit. He jumped, chopped and pushed. Even its bullet-length hitting spin uses an angled bat, risk where none is needed. He might not be the only player caught twice in a test match on a higher edge than third man deep, but they could probably fit in a car on a Ferris wheel.

It never meant, oddly enough, that Head had total failure streaks. He immediately attacks the ball and therefore begins to score. He has an eye good enough to take a few shots. So even when his looseness defeated him, he almost always had a few leads under his belt before that happened.

He has only been absent twice in 32 innings, including the first. Only three other times it has come out in single digits. Most players make these kinds of scores between a quarter and a third of the time. Head is over his 20s, 30s, 50s, even on the days he didn’t get fat.

The result is that he has at times been more influential than his numbers suggest. He has been the half of a number of important partnerships for Australia in matches where things were not going well. He broke stagnant sleeves, helped his teammates move. He left games changed, without leaving scorecards cluttered. He played the second violin where it was needed, without ever becoming too sotto voce.

Travis Head throws his bat after hitting his 150. Photograph: Dan Peled / AFP / Getty Images

In this first Ashes Test in Brisbane, he was lucky enough to have a dramatic solo. This time he held the stage for the entire performance. He played his innings exactly as you would expect. He didn’t put away a single shot the entire time. And it continued to work. Every time his count of faced balls got closer to his scored points, he was moving away again.

It wasn’t that it was a fully ridged sleeve. There were slices and edges, and they were interspersed with sound hits on the floor for six. Airborne drives on either side of the grounded ones. It was more that Head chose the positive option, the aggressive option, whenever it was a possibility, and was willing to take risks. Partly he was lucky. In part, he made that luck.

By the time his century came on the second night, he was coming from 85 bullets. Among the Australians, only Adam Gilchrist, David Warner, Jack Gregory and Matthew Hayden managed to do it in less. It was the fastest third century Ashes of all time. Head resumed 112 on the third morning with the last three in Australian order for company. He continued, hitting Ben Stokes for a straight six from the bowler’s second ball. He swept Jack Leach for another four. His daring shot for six of Mark Wood’s express pace, crossing the ball line, was all the more entertaining as Head had just missed an identical attempt and had nearly lost his stumps.

By the time Wood finally claimed his timber, the last man out for 154, Head had faced 148 deliveries. A normal Travis Head round is something like 30 races from about 30 deliveries, put together by not holding back until the final mistake happens. This century was basically five Travis Head sleeves sewn together. He had played exactly how he wanted it, and he had made it work.

At the time, with 425 on the board and a lead of 278, those innings would have been felt by his teammates as the climax at the end of their two-day crescendo. Yet at the end of day three, with that lead reduced to a slim 58 and only two English wickets taken, they wished there had been a few more partnerships, some 30 or 40 of the players who didn’t deliver them. This would have taken Australia beyond the 500, on another level of domination. In short, Travis Head would have been greatly helped by someone playing the role of Travis Head. Instead, a Travis Head had to do.

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