While the opening day of the Sheffield Shield fixture at Adelaide Oval did not deliver definitive evidence for selectors actively mulling Australia’s first Test line-up, it offered sufficient signs to gladden the panel’s hearts.
If not fully quell their questions.
With debate ongoing about the make-up of Australia’s top six for the opening Domain Test against India starting December 6, South Australia captain Travis Head found a large portion of the score that has eluded him since his debut series in the Baggy Green Cap last month.
His likely Test teammate Shaun Marsh will be looking to follow his lead tomorrow, when he resumes on nine with Western Australia 1-15 in reply to the hosts first innings of 251.
Head, who is fancied to retain his place on the strength of his performances against Pakistan in the UAE, had endured a lean trot until today’s 87 against a dominant Western Australia attack.
The frustration the 24-year-old has found in scoring just 31 runs from his past four innings in Shield and Gillette Series (against South Africa) ODI matches was apparent in the intent he showed from the moment he went to the wicket today with his team teetering at 2-13.
“I was bitterly disappointed (with recent form), but I was able to come back here and just relax,” Head said at the day’s close about his preparation for the current Shield game.
“It was more frustrating because I know how hard I’m working off the field at the minute, and I feel like I’m batting really well.
“It’s hard to relax when you’re thinking about the three (ODI) games gone by, and I’m constantly thinking about getting better and what’s going on and how to rectify it.
“You just want to get out there and bat, and then you get out to bat you try too hard.
“I felt like I’ve been in good touch, it’s just that in the one-dayers I couldn’t get a start.
“Today I was seeing the ball nicely, I thought I was leaving the ball well early on a wicket that offered something with the new ball and I was able to get through that period.
“It’s probably something over the last little period - trying to get better and working on my craft - that I’ve become a bit caught in the middle of (worrying about) technique, and just batting.
“Today I was able to do that, and play pretty freely.
“I still think in my first 20-30 balls I was very watchful, I think I played some good cricket shots but I also left the ball really well which is something I haven’t done particularly well starting innings in four-day cricket.”
If ever there was a match circumstance in which the skipper would curb his instinctive strokeplay and aim, instead, to regain some touch while rebuilding the innings it was inside the game’s opening half-hour.
Having seen the West End Redbacks’ most experienced batter, Callum Ferguson, get his stumps skittled for a second-ball duck after shouldering arms to a hooping in-swinger from Western Warriors’ quick Matthew Kelly.
But Head, instead, launched a feisty counter-attack that was laced with silken drive through the off-side field as he finished the first session unbeaten on 63, scored at a rate of almost a run-per-ball.
The left-hander might have felt his fortunes had not fully turned when he was adjudged lbw after the break for 87, to a delivery from Cameron Green – who had felt much of the sting from Head’s blazing bat - that pitched perilously close to leg stump.
Once that disappointment had eased, and the calamitous batting collapse it triggered was righted by a doughty ninth-wicket stand of 79 between Nick Winter and Daniel Worrall, Head would likely have taken comfort from the character, if not the curtailment of his knock.
At the same venue where Australia’s Test summer begins in three weeks.
Certainly, the sight of Australia’s incumbent number four (or even three, as was the case in his previous Test innings) striking the ball cleanly and often will have eased concerns the national selection panel might have held over Head’s red-ball form.
As they may have found similar reassurance in the bowling efforts of all-rounder, Mitchell Marsh.
The WA captain confirmed in his most recent Shield outing that he is crisp batting form, scoring 151 during a seven-hour stay against reigning champions Queensland a fortnight ago, but had recorded only two first-class wickets since the Test series in South Africa earlier this year.
Marsh’s haul of 2-42 from 14 overs featured a couple of fortuitous breakthroughs – Jake Lehmann yanking a short ball to deep square-leg, and Harry Nielsen caught behind from a too-fine leg glance – but there were more encouraging moments among those.
In particular, the first ball of Marsh’s final spell that spat from a length and smashed into Worrall’s right thumb, causing the SA seamer to summon medical attention in his comeback game after a lengthy absence through foot and back injuries.
Should circumstances also require the need for an auxiliary fast bowler come the India series, WA quick Jhye Richardson formally tendered his candidacy with 5-47 on an Adelaide pitch that played far more predictably than SA’s horror mid-innings of 4-4 would indicate.