Travis gets head around dual middle-order roles

Australia's young gun has been learning on the job and improving his versatility along the way

This year – as with so many to have immediately preceded it – has been a time of steep learning for Travis Head, upon whom much is expected in all forms of international cricket over the coming decade.

And for the 13 innings and almost 30 overs he's delivered in national colours since being elevated to Australia's senior side on Australia Day 2016, it's doubtful he's gleaned as much, as quickly as he did while standing in the field as hell erupted around him at Durban last Wednesday night.

When South Africa's David Miller, a fellow left-hander who similarly fills the number six batting berth in his team's ODI team, assessed, controlled and ultimately delivered the second-highest successful run chase the international 50-over game was witnessed.

Game 3: Miller masterclass sinks Aussies

If Head is seeking a textbook on how to balance the difficult dual role of late-overs thrasher or middle-overs repairman that invariably befalls an ODI number six, he need only reach for the 118-run version penned by Miller off just 79 balls faced at Kingsmead that earned the Proteas an historic series win.

Miller went to the crease at virtually the midpoint of his team's pursuit of an unlikely 372, as the last specialist batsman and facing a run rate requirement that was well above one run per ball.

In judiciously choosing when defence was needed and, alternately, which deliveries, bowlers and boundaries should be attacked, he fulfilled the contract upon which the value of every ODI lower-middle order batter is ultimately judged.

An ability to carry his team to victory.

It's what made the two stand-out number sixes of the past 20 years – Australia's Michael Bevan and India's World Cup winning skipper MS Dhoni – invaluable to their teams and legends of the short-form game.

With both of them routinely employing the same cool-headed rationale that Miller embraced at Kingsmead, to ensure he stayed at the crease until the very last over and keep alive that flickering hope of a win in the process.

Something that Head, in the very early phase of his time as an international cricketer, recognised he should have done at Wanderers three days earlier.

Quick Single: Durban disaster proves no ODI total is safe

When he went out to bat in the 17th over with his team lurching at 4-87 in pursuit of a lofty 362 and kept them on the required pace until he was dismissed for his maiden ODI half-century in the 31st.

And the Australia innings then wrapped up less than seven overs later, 142 runs in deficit.

"That's what I should have done in the second game," Head said at Australia's training session at Port Elizabeth on Friday as he reflected on Miller's game-defining masterclass in game three of the series.

"I was a bit disappointed to get to 50 and not be there at the end, and at least try and get as close as possible.

"Batting at six, I've got to play two different roles I guess.

Game 2: Australia outclassed by clinical Proteas

"I can come in at the end like I did the other night (at Durban where he clubbed 35 from 18 balls at the death) or like in the first two games, coming in during the middle overs and trying to build an innings.

"He (Miller) played it perfectly the other night and I guess that's the template for how the middle of the bottom-order have to play.

"Their batters at the top have been able to get big runs and consistent runs, and they've had match winners.

"They've had guys who have been there at the end and I think that's probably the main point (of difference).

"You have to be pretty adaptable."

Quick Single: ABdV targets Adelaide for injury comeback

If Head, a former Australia under-19 representative now captain of South Australia, wasn't adaptable prior to the dawn of 2016 he will be by the time it draws to a close.

Since his maiden T20 International on his home patch at Adelaide Oval last January, he has taken his trade to India (for a handful of IPL appearances), the West Indies (an ODI tri-series), England (a brief outing for county team Yorkshire), Sri Lanka (for ODIs and T20s) and now his first visit to South Africa.

Which he claims he's found a difficult place in which to adjust, partly having come directly from contrastingly slow, dry pitches in Sri Lanka and also due to the competitiveness of the home team, egged on by their fiercely parochial home crowds.

The current series against the South Africans might be lost now that Australia has surrendered them a 3-0 lead in a five-game tournament, but Head knows there is much to be gained from the final outings at Port Elizabeth (on Sunday) and Cape Town (Wednesday).

Not least, the chance to knock "some dents" into the Proteas' game plans and confidence before a bulk of their ODI squad grabs their playing whites and head across the Indian Ocean for their three-Test tour that gets underway at the WACA Ground in Perth on November 3.

Quick Single: Pace pair on path back to Australia team

Head believes that despite their humbling so far in South Africa, the world champion ODI team can help their Test match brethren by winning the last couple of matches here and building some national momentum ahead of the upcoming Tests.

From a more selfish perspective, his whirlwind nine months as a globe-trotting international cricketer has further clarified where he wants to get to and the things he needs to tinker with in order to ensure he gets there.

"I think staying in the side, and keep putting performances on the board," he said when asked what he would be working on when he returns to lead South Australia and re-acquaint himself with home next week.

"You've got to be as consistent as possible once you get in the (Australia ODI) side and that's probably something I've had to try and improve over my career.

"My consistency of going out and getting runs, and trying to get big runs.

Quick single: Travis tweaks his Test ambition

"The pressure is on in the (Sheffield) Shield season to hopefully go out and get big runs, that's my goal.

"To stay in the one-day side and hopefully push for the Test team.

"It's long way away, and I just have to get as many runs as possible and put (my) name there I guess."

Meg Lanning Steve Smith