Marsh Sheffield Shield 2020-21
Head dares to dream of Ashes after Test axing
Dropped during the India Test series but recalled for the now cancelled tour of South Africa, Travis Head can't help but cast his thoughts forward to next summer's Ashes series
24 February 2021, 05:39 PM AEST
Travis Head's immediate focus is his batting and leadership responsibilities for South Australia, but he will allow himself an occasional gaze into the middle-distance and Australia's likely next major Test engagement – a home Ashes series against England next summer.
Head readily concedes that daring to dream of a return to the Test team might be viewed as audaciously premature given it's less than two months since he lost his middle-order batting berth to Matthew Wade and the Ashes remain almost a year away.
But the 27-year-old received a clear hint he was in line for a recall in the since-postponed Test series against South Africa when Wade was omitted from the squad, leaving Head fighting New South Wales allrounder Moises Henriques for the suddenly vacant position.
So while Head has spent the past week planning for Western Australia and the Marsh Sheffield Shield/One-Day Cup double in Perth starting tomorrow, he claims it's only prudent that he also starts honing his game to combat the likes of England pace ace Jofra Archer next summer.
"I don't think it's getting over-confident, thinking of whether I'm going to be there or not (in Australia's Test line-up)," Head said today.
"But just like this week is preparing for the WACA, it's also preparing for England, and it's preparing for a lot of things that are to come over the next six-to-twelve months.
"Things I can do to try and get ahead of the curve.
"It (the Ashes) is obviously a long way away, but then there's also a lot of subcontinent tours that I want to be in the running for and playing well, so spin becomes a focus over the next 12 months as well.
"I'm slowly developing that so I'm not cramming for an exam when I get close to a series, when I think I'm going to come up against Jofra, or spin, or I think there's going to be short balls or reverse swing.
"It's those sort of things, if I see there's any (weaknesses) in my game then making sure I tighten them up."
Head made a strong start to the current summer, averaging 65 (with two centuries) in the first phase of Shield matches before scores of 7, 38 and 17 against India saw him dropped for the final two Vodafone Series Tests with Wade slotting into to the middle-order as opener David Warner returned from injury.
As it turned out, that reshuffle to try and bolster Australia's fragile batting proved unsuccessful as Warner remained hampered by a groin tear and scored 67 from his four innings while Wade's aggregate was 62 in the No.5 position as India claimed the series 2-1.
Head might therefore have been confident of a recall in South Africa given Henriques, the only other specialist middle-order batter in Australia's squad of 19, played the most recent of his five Test matches to date in Sri Lanka more than four years ago.
However, the national selectors' search for middle-order stability is made more urgent by the lack of Test cricket Australia seems set to play between now and the Ashes starting next December.
The postponement of the three-Test tour to South Africa means Australia now relies on results in the India-England series that resumes in Ahmedabad today to reach the final of the ICC's World Test Championship, their only potential Test engagement between now and the 2021-22 summer.
Consequently, runs in domestic red-ball matches over the coming weeks should carry a hefty premium and no sooner had Head been axed from the Test XI for the first time since the 2019 Ashes than he set about pushing his claim for reinstatement.
"It was disappointing not to be in the team, but I got good feedback on what I need to do," Head said of his reaction to being dropped.
"In regards to the two weeks I didn't play (in the third and fourth Tests against India), I think I was becoming a better player by training with the squad and being around the group, asking questions and still learning the game still at Test-match level.
"All I'm trying to do now is win games of cricket for South Australia, be as consistent and as calm as I possibly can be and continue to work on the things they've asked me to.
"It's my movement patterns, and with my technique there's things I continue to work on with the right side and with the tempo that I play.
"I think I've had really good moments with that, and some moments that I look back on where I made some poor decisions.
"But I've got to stay as consistent as I possibly can, and that's something I constantly work on."
Having spent a fortnight in the Test team's bio-secure bubble running drinks and batting in the nets, Head then struggled to find rhythm at the back end of KFC BBL season.
But his return to Premier Cricket in Adelaide last weekend yielded an unbeaten 108 from 160 balls for Tea Tree Gully which he believes will help him recapture his early season form when the Redbacks' Shield campaign resumes tomorrow.
Head's Test record after 19 matches – 1153 runs at 39.76 with two hundreds and seven half-centuries - is almost identical to that of former Test captain Ricky Ponting at the same stage of his fabled career (1162 runs at 40.07 with the same split of centuries and 50s).
The significant difference, however, is Ponting was yet to turn 24 at that point while Head will be on the cusp of 28 by the time the first Ashes Test begins next summer.
And it was the manner of Head's dismissals against India – a soft return catch to Ravichandran Ashwin and a couple of airy drives to the slips – rather than his undoubted talent that brought his omission and another round of questions as to his Test future.
"I felt like I played well in Melbourne (second Test) but when I got to 40 I got myself out, so that was my chance to get a big score," Head said.
"When you're playing for Australia, you have to make sure you make every post a winner and when you're not getting runs – or big runs – then you put yourself up (for criticism).
"Unfortunately, that's when my name came up and I didn't keep my spot.
"On the flip side, I feel like I am on the right track.
"I just have to keep working hard and keep making sure that every time I go out to bat – like on the weekend for Tea Tree Gully – every opportunity I get to play, I have to play well.
"And each week just continue to get better."