National coach Justin Langer congratulated Travis Head on his season-opening 163 but the Redbacks skipper is refusing to contemplate a possible Test recall
Head's start to summer grabs Langer's attention
After a challenging winter stint in the UK, Travis Head is excited to be playing cricket at home where he can feel the sun on his back, the Kookaburra ball in the middle of his bat and the love from national men's team coach, Justin Langer.
Head left Australia last April to undertake a stint with county outfit Sussex, just days after being told he would not be offered a new Cricket Australia contract and months after losing his place in the Test team midway through last season's series loss to India.
The reversal of fortunes he hoped would salve the disappointments of last home summer – which also proved his most productive in the Marsh Sheffield Shield – failed to materialise, certainly in the first-class format against the swing and seam movement of the Dukes ball.
The 27-year-old managed just 183 runs from 11 innings for Sussex at an average of 18.30 and a highest score of 49no.
But having rejoined the Redbacks earlier this month after serving his mandatory fortnight of quarantine in Adelaide, Head entered the domestic season brimming with enthusiasm and intent as shown in his first-up innings against Western Australia at Karen Rolton Oval.
The left-hander posted a game-high 163 in SA's only innings to be named player of the match, a return to his productive form of 2020-21 that caught the eye of national selection chair George Bailey who was in attendance, and Langer who is in Perth preparing for the upcoming Ashes campaign.
Head confirmed today that Langer had sent him a text message on Sunday evening to congratulate him on his knock, with a planned phone conversation between the pair to take place in coming days.
"Hopefully it's a good call," Head said with a smile, after the drawn game with WA today.
"I had a bit of a challenging winter against the Duke, but I think that held me in good stead.
"I felt like the whole winter over there I continued to work on my game, and I got tested in different areas as well which is what you want.
"The results weren't there but I felt like I wasn't far away.
"You try to stay as relaxed as you can and you hope the runs are there, and it's nice that they've come in the first innings of the season.
"But I know I've got to keep working hard and keep preparing myself as best I can for each game."
Head's preparedness to work hard and try to win back his Test place will come as no surprise to Langer, who has previously lauded the ex-Test vice-captain's willingness to identify his shortcomings and improve his game.
In announcing the 17-man CA contract list earlier this year, then selection chair Trevor Hohns also expressed concern about the paucity of Test cricket Australia faced during the home winter but hoped for "plenty of Shield cricket" to inform selection for this summer's Ashes.
With COVID-19 continuing to play havoc with the Australia domestic schedule, early season runs might carry even greater currency but Head is refusing to contemplate a possible Test recall and is restricting his focus to SA's next game.
Although, the fact he knows neither where or when that will be makes it a less convincing cliché to fall back on.
"I felt like the last 12-18 months has been really solid," he said, in expressing an expectation SA's next Shield game will be held at Adelaide Oval next month.
"The challenge is continuing to keep going.
"It does help to get good batting tracks where you can play through the line, and I took a couple of (WA) bowlers on which was good.
"But I know there will be challenging conditions around the corner when we get to Adelaide (Oval) with a different wicket.
"As I've got older and played a lot more cricket, it's how I identify moments and wickets and conditions, and what's going to best suit those conditions.
"I think I put that in good order this week, and then when I go to Adelaide in a couple of weeks, knowing what that wicket does I'll be batting a different way and grinding away."
It's the "grinding" theme that SA coach Jason Gillespie emphasised in the lead-up to his team's opening Shield and Marsh One Day Cup matches against WA.
Gillespie, who in a SA season preview for cricket.com.au identified Head as the Redbacks' key player for the coming summer, pointed out to his charges they were essentially a blue-collar outfit whose best chance of defeating more celebrated teams was to wage a game of attrition.
And after a winless 2020-21 in both competitions, their promising performance against a strong WA line-up in the Shield format saw them daring to eye a possible win on the final day before Hilton Cartwright peeled off a drought-breaking century.
"That's what Dizzy's words this week were, we're probably going to have to be more of a workmanlike team," Head said.
"We're going to have to work teams over, we're probably not as star-studded as some of the other teams and we're going to just have to grind teams down.
"I think this week we were able to do that - we grinded with the bat and grinded with the ball, and it was nice to be able to play a role."