Rookie moves to Head of the queue

Redbacks skipper targeting a permanent place in Australia's ODI middle-order

There are several spots up for grabs in Australia's best XI for their upcoming Champions Trophy campaign, but Travis Head has done everything he can over the past 12 months to ensure his is not one of them.

Still a rookie of this one-day international side having only made his debut last June, the 23-year-old has quickly justified pundits who have long pegged him for higher honours, and validated South Australian cricket's bold decision in 2015 to appoint him as their youngest-ever captain when he was still just 21.

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The left-handed batsman (who has also established himself as a genuine allrounder in this team, but more on that later) has been living proof of some of the sporting world's favourite clichés: adaptability and versatility.

In just 21 ODI innings, Head has batted everywhere in the order from opener to No.7 except for first drop and has been dismissed for less than 30 just seven times.

His impressive average of 37.20 is superior to those of one-day legends Adam Gilchrist, Steve Waugh and Allan Border and while no-one is suggesting he's worthy of such comparisons yet, he's certainly shown glimpses of what made that legendary trio icons of Australian cricket.

He's shown attacking flair; his 36-ball 51 against Pakistan in Sydney last January featured four sixes and came just six weeks after he blazed 57 from 32 deliveries in a stunning late Australian attack against New Zealand in Canberra.

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He's shown grit on foreign soil; when Australia had lost three in a hurry on a crumbling wicket in Dambulla last August, he shared a century stand with George Bailey to help secure a six-wicket win, and then posted a patient 53 as wickets fell around him in a losing cause in Hamilton against New Zealand earlier this year.

And he's scored a big hundred at home; his breakthrough 128 in front of his home crowd on Australia Day was only overshadowed by the record-breaking 284-run opening stand he shared with David Warner, whose magnificent 179 understandably stole most of the limelight.

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"I feel like I've been putting in some good performances and I've been pretty consistent since I've started," Head said on Tuesday ahead of Australia's Champions Trophy opener against New Zealand on June 2.

"And that's all you can ask for, is to keep putting up reasonable scores. I was looking for that during the summer and I wanted that big score so it was nice to get a hundred (on Australia Day).

"I finished reasonably well in the Australian summer and hopefully I'll get the nod (to play NZ). It's my first time being in a really big tournament so I'm really looking forward to it."

The question seemingly surrounds not whether Head will play, but rather where in the order he will bat.

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An opener in domestic 50-over cricket - his double century against WA on the opening day of the 2015 Matador Cup came from the top of the order - Head slotted seamlessly into Australia's middle order before briefly earning a promotion when regular opener Aaron Finch was dropped last January.

He made a reasonable fist of his three chances opening the innings, posting scores of 5, 39 and that 128 on Australia Day and could well partner Warner at the top again in Birmingham next weekend.

But with Finch back in the fold and Chris Lynn also pushing his case to open, a return to the middle looms and Head played a typically straight bat when asked about his preferred position on Tuesday.

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"My game can be adapted to bat from one to six," he said. "So I haven't really thought about that too much."

It might be just as well that Head shifts back down the order as selectors and skipper Steve Smith would be loathe to overload the youngster, who could also continue his role as Australia's quasi-frontline spinner over the next month.

Head was a reliable bowling ally for Smith over the home summer, especially when leggie Adam Zampa wasn't picked, bowling his full allocation of 10 overs on three occasions as fellow off-spinning allrounder Glenn Maxwell was overlooked (the Victorian has not bowled a single delivery in his past eight ODIs).

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And with the early-season English conditions and the balance of Australia's squad favouring four frontline quicks, Head may again be relied upon as the major spin option.

"I've been working hard on it over the last few seasons," he said. "In case I miss out with the bat I can still give something to the team with the ball or in the field.

"So if it's needed throughout the tournament ... I'm not going to be out there to win games of cricket with my bowling, but if I can do a job for the team and get them to that position, then that's fantastic."

Champions Trophy 2017 Guide

Squads: Every Champions Trophy squad named so far

Group A: Australia, New Zealand, England, Bangladesh.

Group B: India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Pakistan.


Warm-up matches

26 May – Australia v Sri Lanka, The Oval

27 May – Bangladesh v Pakistan, Edgbaston

28 May – India v New Zealand, The Oval

29 May – Australia v Pakistan, Edgbaston

30 May – New Zealand v Sri Lanka, Edgbaston

30 May – Bangladesh vs India, The Oval


1 June – England v Bangladesh, The Oval (Day)

2 June – Australia v New Zealand, Edgbaston (D)

3 June – Sri Lanka v South Africa, The Oval (D)

4 June – India v Pakistan, Edgbaston (D)

5 June – Australia v Bangladesh, The Oval (D/N)

6 June – England v New Zealand, Cardiff (D)

7 June – Pakistan v South Africa, Edgbaston (D/N)

8 June – India v Sri Lanka, The Oval (D)

9 June – New Zealand v Bangladesh, Cardiff (D)

10 June – England v Australia, Edgbaston (D)

11 June – India v South Africa, The Oval (D)

12 June – Sri Lanka v Pakistan, Cardiff (D)

14 June – First semi-final (A1 v B2), Cardiff (D)

15 June – Second semi-final (A2 v B1), Edgbaston (D)

18 June – Final, The Oval (D)

19 June – Reserve day (D)

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