County Championship 2021
The holiday call that left Head in the contract wilderness
Travis Head reveals he received the news of his axing from CA's contract list during a fleeting moment of phone reception on a camping trip
27 April 2021, 05:03 PM AEST
While Travis Head admits it was tough to take the news of his omission from last week's Cricket Australia contract list, he's also revealed the difficulties national selectors faced in getting the message to him.
Head was on a camping trip in the Flinders Ranges, the rugged and sometimes remote gateway to central Australia's outback around 450km north of Adelaide, where the absence of mobile phone coverage rendered him oblivious to the drama unfolding around his contract status.
Having been rendered incommunicado while travelling throughout last week with fiancée Jessica and members of her family – with the holiday to celebrate her father's 60th birthday – the 27-year-old was only mildly concerned about the announcement that was due while he was away.
But he was blithely unaware the list's public release was delayed for more than 24 hours as selection chair Trevor Hohns and CA officials desperately tried to track down the former Test vice-captain and personally inform him of his contract loss before news leaked to the media.
It wasn't until Friday afternoon, when Head was able to access some fleeting wi-fi coverage near the slopes of St Mary Peak – at 1171m, the second highest point in the Flinders Ranges – that the messages got through and he was then able to speak with Hohns.
That conversation duly left Head musing the vacation mood might have been better served had he remained in radio silence.
"I knew going into the week it was going to be announced, but I didn't realise until we passed through Quorn (about 340km out of Adelaide) that I was off the grid with my phone," Head told cricket.com.au today.
"On the night before the announcement, Jess's father's partner did have a little bit of phone coverage on her network so we looked up a story on cricket.com.au, which loaded very slowly but we saw there wasn't any news out there yet.
"So I thought 'that's all cool, I'll find out in a few more days' and then I later realised it wasn't out there because they couldn't get hold of me because my phone wasn't on.
"Then I'm standing virtually on the side of St Mary Peak, waving my phone around until I got some wi-fi.
"It's not really what you want on a holiday, and wasn't ideal from everyone's point of view.
"But at the end of the day, it didn't change the decision that had already been made and I was grateful that Cricket Australia waited to make sure they told me in person.
"And maybe it wasn't a bad thing to be told and then to be able to go off for a few more days of camping, without any phone reception, and be able to take it all in.
"I was extremely disappointed at first but understanding of the points they made and where they're at in terms of making decisions.
"They want guys who play good international cricket and who demand contracts through their international performance."
Head, who flies out of Adelaide on Wednesday to spend the northern summer playing for English county team Sussex, concedes that while the hurt of losing his CA contract lingers, the ensuing weekend in the wilderness helped him reach a level of acceptance.
Upon his return home from the Flinders National Park on Monday, he phoned Hohns's fellow selector George Bailey, and this morning sent a message to Justin Langer in the hope of having a chat to the national men's team coach before he embarks on his UK playing stint.
He concedes Langer might have been among those who tried to call him last week, but the absence of a phone footprint around Wilpena Pound and Arkaroola (in the nearby Gammon Ranges) meant he was able only to see messages and not receive notification of missed calls.
"I flicked JL (Langer) a message just to say 'hey, it would be good to chat at some point", Head said.
"I know that will happen, so it will be good to tick off chats with all three selectors and then I can just concentrate on going to Sussex and playing good cricket there.
"I'm still extremely disappointed not to be on the contract list, but I'm lucky to get an opportunity to go away to England where hopefully I can play well and then can get myself into that (Australia) team for the first Test next summer.
"Overall, I'm in a good place - happy at home and still contracted with South Australia, so I still have a job.
"And now I go to Sussex, where I'm looking forward to contributing given they're a young side and they've made a great start to the (county) season."
After beginning the domestic summer in red-hot form with big centuries in two of his first three Marsh Sheffield Shield matches, Head lost his Test berth after scores of 7, 38 and 17 against India having gone to the wicket with Australia three-down for less than 75 in each of his three innings.
Langer identified a couple of small technical glitches in the left-hander's game, which Head worked assiduously to correct as he reeled off a career-high 223 in his first match back in Shield ranks and finished the season as the competition’s second-highest run scorer.
He's not convinced it was entirely the technical tweaks that enabled him to bounce back so quickly after being axed from the Test line-up, but he's heard Hohns's assessment that performances for Australia will dictate who earns CA contracts, which means Head has a clear focus on the task ahead.
"Those small changes to my technique, and they weren't anything major, may have been a factor or it might have been mindset or it could have been a lot of things that contributed to that Shield form," he said.
"I think I was in a good space and confident which helps, and we also played on some pretty good batting wickets this year.
"So I've just go to continue trying to do the things they (selectors) are asking of me and then translate that to the international stage, which we know can be bloody hard.
"And if I do get another opportunity at international cricket – and I hope that's not too far away – the key is not to try too hard, and not to think about nailing it.
"It's just to go out there and do what I've been doing over the past 12 months – enjoy it, play well and play relaxed while also continuing to work really hard on my technique and my all-round game
"It's gone really well in the last six months, but I understand there will be dips and you have to try to keep those dips as shallow as possible and as far apart as possible, and performing consistently is what I'll be looking to do with Sussex."
Part of the appeal of a stint in the UK – along with playing competitive cricket as opposed to an off-season spent confined to nets training, as was the case at the height of last year's COVID-19 restrictions – is the opportunity to simply bat without the accompanying pressure of captaincy.
After a difficult season at the helm of South Australia, who failed to win a game in the Shield and Marsh One-Day Cup competitions, Head is excited about the prospect of leaving the leadership to Sussex's veteran captain-keeper Ben Brown and "going over there with a really clear mind".
But his prospects for a Test recall with a home Ashes campaign looming next summer might be heightened by the familiarity he establishes with the bowling of Sussex spearhead Jofra Archer, who is also expected to be England's strike weapon in the battle to regain the famous urn.
Not that Head will be volunteering to face England's fastest bowler more often than is necessary at Sussex training.
"Geez, I'm looking forward to that," he said sardonically about the prospect of regularly facing up to Archer.
"He won't look after me, I know that much.
"He's obviously coming back from his elbow injury and I'm sure he'll be keen to get stuck in again, so I don't know how keen I'll be to put my hand up and face him.
"But I'm looking forward to going over and playing with different guys and experiencing different challenges.
"It's something I'm very fortunate to be able to do and then, hopefully, come December, Jofra and I will be playing against each other."