World Cup: The Aussie power player with the ability to make Heads turn

As was evident during his ton against the Kiwis in Dharamsala, Australian opener Travis Head thrives during powerplays and that bodes well for the team moving forward.
Travis Head (Photo | AP)
Travis Head (Photo | AP)

AHMEDABAD: A few days after Travis Head had fractured his left hand in the second week of September, a scan had revealed some good news. He wouldn't be needing surgery. As soon as that result was out, a decision had to be taken. Would it be worth their while to pick him as part of the squad when he wouldn't be available to play in the first half of the World Cup?

The selection committee and support staff had to consider all avenues in front of them. If they did go down the route of putting Head on the plane, it would essentially mean they play with 14 men for the first five to six games. It would also mean shifting Mitchell Marsh up the order to open and changing the batting line-up so close to the actual event. On the other hand, not picking him would have meant the absence of an explosive as well as reliable option at the back end of the event.

They plumped for the latter. Dharamsala showed why the selectors did what they did. In a World Cup where the batting powerplay has set the agenda for the rest of the innings, Australia have their own insurance policy at the top. Marsh can be good, Warner likes to set himself up but Head is where their batting powerplay kicks into gear.  

While he's not without his chinks, there is a total conviction in the way he goes about his business. By the time the Black Caps knew what had hit them, Head had moved to a 25-ball 50. Granted the strip at Dharamsala was great for strokeplay but for somebody to display that level after a month out from the game, showed his level.  

Since 2022, when Australia sort of promoted Head to open the batting (his first ODI in a three-and-a-half years saw him score a ton while opening), Head has gone about setting a name for himself. While he's been more aggressive than Virender Sehwag, he's averaging 30 runs more than Virat Kohli in the powerplay. Sure, these are unsustainable in the long run but Head is living in the present.  

Here are the numbers. From January 1 2022, Head's average in the powerplay is 89.2 while striking the ball at 131.95. To just give a perspective, Rohit Sharma's powerplay numbers in the same time period are 69.7 and 109.88 respectively.

"There are times where we (Warner being the other) can't go as aggressive, there's obviously been periods that we have," Head had said after his 100 against New Zealand. "So, here with two out you want to be as positive as we can be if the wicket allows it and I think over the last sort of 12 months, the wickets have allowed it, they've been pretty good, especially here, especially that wicket.

"We understand that there's different times and different tempos you need to, and I think we did that still throughout the 20 odd overs that we batted together. So, yeah, hopefully it continues."

Did it put any added pressure on the 29-year-old that the team management were willing to play half the tournament with just 14 players? "I understood a lot of things had to go right, personally and with the team," he said. "So, I didn't really feel the pressure today. I just wanted to come out and play and contribute. At some stage, you want to step up. It's nice to do it straight away. And then hopefully I can roll onto that into the next three and then hopefully finals."

Australia's first order of business will be to qualify for the last four where one of India or South Africa will be the opponents. Both bowling groups will be wary of the southpaw just because of the way he attacks the pacers in the powerplay. And he has recent history against both countries.

In March, Head got off to quick two starts at Chennai (33 off 31) and Visakhapatnam (unbeaten 51 off 30) against the likes of Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj. At Bloemfontein against South Africa, he set the game up with a 36-ball 64 against Marco Jansen and Kagiso Rabada.

History could well repeat itself next week.

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The New Indian Express