Australia v India Tests
Head's Baggy Green not far away: Lehmann
Coach discusses "tight call" for India tour, says it's a matter of time before Redbacks captain plays Test cricket
Adam Burnett in Hamilton, New Zealand
6 February 2017, 12:30 PM AEST
Australia coach Darren Lehmann said the omission of Travis Head from the Qantas Test Tour of India was a particularly difficult call and he expects the young Redbacks captain to feature in Baggy Green "in the not-too-distant future".
And Lehmann has indicated that Head's left-handedness may have worked against him at the selection table, given six other top-order players in the touring party are lefties.
Head has fitted seamlessly into Australia's ODI set-up since his debut last June, playing in 22 of the team's 25 matches since then and posting five fifties as well as a maiden hundred.
He continued his impressive run against New Zealand yesterday, making 53 in Hamilton during Australia's defeat in the Chappell-Hadlee decider.
The 23-year-old is the reigning Sheffield Shield Player of the Year and is averaging 60.33 in the competition this season, with a century and two fifties from six innings.
He was pulled out of a stint with Yorkshire in the County Championship last August to link up with Australia's squad prior to the third Test in Sri Lanka, largely to work on his bowling in subcontinental conditions ahead of the tour of India.
Quick Single: Head enjoying role at top of the spin class
The off-spinner has responded well with the ball, recently leapfrogging Glenn Maxwell as the go-to tweaker in the ODI side when Australia have opted for an all-out pace attack.
But it was Maxwell – as well as Mitchell Marsh and Ashton Agar – who were preferred in front of Head for the India tour.
"It was a really tight call," Lehmann said on Sunday after Australia relinquished the Chappell-Hadlee trophy. "Obviously he's done really well in the one-day series for us.
"His bowling has gone through the roof, so I'm really pleased for him there and he batted really well again (on Sunday).
"(But) you can only take so many, and we've got a lot of left-handers in the squad as well, so in the end it was just a very tight call."
Former Australia batsman Mike Hussey last month floated Head's left-handedness as a possible factor in his absence from the Test squad, pointing to the sensational record of star Indian off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin against left-handers.
Australia's top seven for the first Test in Pune is expected to include David Warner, Matthew Renshaw, Usman Khawaja and Matthew Wade, who are all left-handed, as are the likes of Shaun Marsh, Ashton Agar as well as tail-enders Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
Quick Single: Hussey considers Head's Test absence
Eighteen of Ashwin's 28 victims in the recent Test series against England were left-handed batsmen, while he also took 18 left-handed scalps (out of 29) against Australia four years ago.
"I think the other thing that might have helped (Maxwell get selected) is being a right-hander, as opposed to Travis Head, who I thought was right in contention as well," Hussey told cricket.com.au.
"Ashwin is going to be such a key player for India and he's got a great record against left-handers. So maybe that was something the selectors were thinking about as well."
Head was a strong candidate for a Test place in the home summer when significant changes loomed following Australia's series defeat to South Africa, which led to the ushering out of Joe Burns, Adam Voges and Mitchell Marsh from the top six.
At that point in the Shield season, however, the left-hander hadn't posted a century, and with selectors keen to pick in-form batsmen, they picked three who had: Peter Handscomb, Matthew Renshaw and Nic Maddinson.
Head then made scores of 52, 57 and 37 in the following ODI series against New Zealand in December, but when the Maddinson experiment was abandoned following the Boxing Day Test, the national selection panel reverted to picking a seam-bowling allrounder, with West Australian Hilton Cartwright getting the nod.
Lehmann, however, insisted that Head has made every post a winner in his bid to wear the Baggy Green, suggesting his presence in the Test team is only a matter of time.
"He's impressed us immensely with the way he's adapted to international cricket," the coach and selector said.
"We expect him in the not-too-distant future to get his chance in Test cricket."