Sri Lanka v Australia ODIs - Men
Head realistic about ODI spot despite recent run glut
While he expects to make way for the return of David Warner in the ODI opener in Sri Lanka, Australia's Test No.5 is hoping for more white-ball opportunities ahead of next year's 50-over World Cup
5 June 2022, 01:30 PM AEST
Despite a remarkable record that overshadows most Australia openers at the same stage of their ODI careers, Travis Head doesn't expect to make the starting XI for the upcoming 50-over leg of the Qantas Tour of Sri Lanka.
Head was installed at the top of Australia's batting order when David Warner was rested from the white-ball component of the recent Pakistan tour, with the replacement opener finishing the three-match ODI series as the team's second-highest runs scorer.
But with Warner returning to partner skipper Aaron Finch for the five-match campaign against Sri Lanka beginning at Kandy on June 14, Head expects to be squeezed out of the line-up as Australia steps up their preparation for next year's ICC 50-over World Cup in India.
That's in spite of Head's performances against the new ball, with his 15 innings as an ODI opener (from 45 matches since 2016) yielding 683 runs at an average of 45.53 with two centuries, five half-centuries and a strike rate of almost 105 per 100 balls faced.
By way of context, the only other Australia ODI batter to boast a better average from as many or more starts as an opener is Usman Khawaja with 53.63 from his 20 innings at the top of the order.
While Khawaja – whose most recent ODI appearance came in the 2019 World Cup – can claim even greater consistency of output with two centuries and eight 50s from those 20 knocks, his strike rate of 85.99 against the new ball is significantly less than Head’s.
However, Head's inclusion in both the ODI squad that departed for Colombo on Friday and the Australia A outfit that will be playing a number of one-day and first-class matches in Sri Lanka prior to the first Test starting at Galle on June 29 suggests he remains on the periphery of the national one-day team.
"It means I probably won't start (in the ODI series)," Head told cricket.com.au prior to flying out for Sri Lanka.
"I'm realistic in that Davey (Warner) and Finchy are back together at the top of the order, and then you've got a middle-order that's so set in that side it's a hard one to get into.
"I think the plan is to see the lay of the land for the first couple of ODIs and, if the opportunity isn't quite there and a spot doesn't open up, then there's a chance for me to play in the second Australia A (four-day) game and turn my focus to the Test series.
"I'm probably the unfortunate one at the moment who's just out of that ODI starting XI, but it's great to be back in the squad and I hope I've been able to force the selectors hand a bit over the last 18 months or so with domestic form and then in Pakistan.
"I'll try to keep banging the door down, and that's all you can really do."
It was that heavy hammering on the selectors' door that saw Head recalled to the ODI outfit earlier this year for his first appearance in yellow clobber since late 2018.
That was when a string of low scores in an ODI series against South Africa put paid to his hopes of a berth at the 2019 World Cup in the UK, but since then he's plundered 666 runs (strike rate 131.1) for South Australia in the Marsh One-Day Cup with a best of 230 off 127 balls against Queensland last October.
Despite his impressive numbers in the 50-over format, Head claims he's not eyeing the next World Cup but hopes for opportunities to further push his case in scheduled ODI series against Zimbabwe, New Zealand, England and South Africa during the coming Australian summer.
"There's about 170 games between now and then," Head laughed when asked about his World Cup ambitions.
"I'm not really looking that far ahead because there's a lot to play out.
"I hope I get more opportunity leading up to that World Cup, to continue trying to make a run at it and see if I can get in that team or at least in that squad because I haven't played in a tournament like that yet.
"Given the start of my (international) career came in one-day cricket, I probably thought I was going to play in a World Cup of some format by now, but it hasn't happened.
"I've played in the Champions Trophy, but to be part of big tournament on the world stage would be nice to experience.
"I know my record (as an ODI opener) stacks up okay, and I've had some success there, but I've always said there's not many batters in the world who don't want to bat as high as they can in one-day cricket.
"There might be a handful of guys who are either specialist finishers or guys that love the middle-overs, but you're kidding yourself if you don't want to be in the top three or four batters in any one-day set-up."
Regardless of where selectors choose to deploy him, Head feels his game is in good shape for Sri Lanka's expected trial by spin after an admittedly lean output (68 runs at 22.66) during the three Tests in Pakistan.
The left-hander enjoyed a rare break from competitive cricket after that tour, just the second 'off-season' he's not been involved in the UK county scene or with other representative commitments since making his Australia debut in 2016.
The other enforced break came at the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
He had planned to return to Sussex for a county stint prior to the Sri Lanka series, but news in the wake of his player-of-the-series Vodafone Ashes heroics that fiancée Jessica Davies was pregnant with the couple's first child forced a sudden change of plans.
"It's nice to have the chance to reflect, to take a deep breath and chill and go 'okay, I was probably due a bit of a spell'," he said.
"It had been a big couple of years for me.
"I got back in the Test team (in 2020) then lost my (Cricket Australia) contract, and that meant trying to make every post a winner and play everywhere I could.
"You do that when you're fighting to get back into teams, you can't really opt out on anything when you're under the scrutiny of the selectors, because if you have a spell then someone can jump you.
"That's why I prioritised county cricket and A tours – I haven't said no to anything over probably my whole career.
"It's been nice to have a bit of a break, but I'm ready to go now and get back into it."
Instead of the county circuit, where he felt he owed Sussex after a less-than-triumphant stint with the south coast club last year, Head has been working at the recently refurbished Adelaide Oval indoor nets that now boast dedicated spin and pace bowling pitches.
He's also hoping the success he enjoyed in the white-ball component of the Pakistan tour will enable him to make a quick transition to Sri Lanka conditions that are expected to be far more spin-friendly than the lifeless tracks of Rawalpindi, Karachi and Lahore.
Head admits he found it tough to get himself into the bat-dominated Test series in Pakistan, where he was required to bat just once in each of the first two matches and on both those occasions he didn't get to the wicket until his team had more than 300 on the scoreboard.
"I watched some cricket during those Tests, there's no doubt about that," he reflected.
"I had the pads on for quite a while, both me and Fawad (Alam, Pakistan's number five), we found it pretty tough in terms of getting into the first two Tests but I was obviously disappointed with my output.
"I probably had an opportunity in that last Test, got to the mid-20s and I was one over from the second new-ball and that would have changed a lot because we saw how good it was to bat at that time of the innings.
"But I think I've got the game for those subcontinent conditions.
"I look back at times I've played really well for SA at Karen Rolton Oval on a spinning wicket, against (Queensland's Matt) Kuhnemann in a second innings this year, a few times against Tommy Andrews for Tassie, and last year against the Vics on day four, fighting for a draw on tough spinning wickets.
"Obviously not spinning to same extent as what we'll see in Sri Lanka, but the same methods apply and I feel like I've got those methods."
Unlike Pakistan, where Australia had not played cricket in any form for 24 years, Head can cite some experience in Sri Lanka even if it was limited to white-ball matches at the outset of his international journey six years ago.
But his recollections of joining that campaign, with the Test squad in the midst of a 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Sri Lanka spinners Rangana Herath and Dilruwan Perera (both now retired), is but one of a couple of reasons Head might feel a pang of anxiety about returning to the 'tropical teardrop'.
He laughs now as he recalls being plucked from a stint with county team Yorkshire to urgently join the unravelling Australia Test squad that faced sweeping changes for the final match of that 2016 series at Colombo.
While he was ostensibly co-opted for the ODI and T20Is that were to follow, he was part of the preparation for the third Test and was mildly panicked he might be prematurely handed a Baggy Green Cap as selectors desperately sought solutions to their inadequate batting.
As it turned out, he was not needed until the white-ball leg of the campaign where Australia won all-but one of their seven games but his enduring memory of the pitches prepared for those limited-overs fixtures was for them being "outrageous with how much they spun".
His other slight anxiety might revolve around a return to a small island in the Indian Ocean given the experience he and Jessica endured on their return from an idyllic holiday in the nearby Maldives last month.
While bound for the Maldives capital Male en route to Singapore and home, a tropical storm saw the small propeller plane on which they were travelling attempt an emergency landing on a small island, the name of which is still unknown to Head and his pregnant fiancée.
Following one aborted attempt to make landfall, the pilot had a second go and the aircraft overshot the short runway and came to rest in a rain-soaked field from where the handful of stunned passengers were locked in a room without access to water or telecommunications for almost an hour.
The group was eventually relocated to more suitable accommodation before onward travel could be sorted, but when Jessica posted photos on Instagram days later mockingly referring to the "terrifying ordeal", some media outlets in Australia treated it as the biggest aviation crisis since the Hindenburg disaster.
"It was a shocker," Head said as he recounted the subsequent media storm that erupted after the pair had safely returned to Adelaide.
"Jessica put it up as a bit of a laugh, two days after it happened … just to say this is what went on, how funny, but there were a few people that didn't find it that funny.
"It wasn’t the best way to cap off a beautiful eight or nine days.
"I guess it was a bit hairy, and Jess was a lot more calm than I was.
"When I got my feet on the land I was pretty happy.
"At least it's a bit bigger plane (flying back to Sri Lanka), so I’m looking forward to that."
Qantas Tour of Sri Lanka, 2022
Sri Lanka T20 squad: Dasun Shanaka (c), Pathum Nissanka, Danushka Gunathilaka, Kusal Mendis, Charith Asalanka, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Nuwanidu Fernando, Lahiru Madushanka, Wanindu Hasaranga, Chamika Karunaratne, Dushmantha Chameera, Kasun Rajitha, Nuwan Thushara, Matheesha Pathirana, Ramesh Mendis, Maheesh Theekshana, Praveen Jayawickrama, Lakshan Sandakan. Standby: Jeffrey Vandersay, Niroshan Dickwella
Australia T20 squad: Aaron Finch (c), Sean Abbott, Ashton Agar, Josh Hazlewood, Josh Inglis, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Jhye Richardson, Kane Richardson, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner, Matthew Wade
June 7: First T20, Colombo, 11.30pm AEST
June 11: Third T20, Kandy, 11.30pm AEST
Sri Lanka ODI squad (provisional): Dasun Shanaka (c), Danushka Gunathilaka, Pathum Nissanka, Kusal Mendis, Charith Asalanka, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Dhananjaya De Silva, Ashen Bandara, Dinesh Chandimal, Niroshan Dickwella, Janith Liyanage, Dunith Wellalage, Dhananjaya Lakshan, Sahan Arachchi, Wanindu Hasaranga, Chamika Karunaratne, Lahiru Madushanka, Ramesh Mendis, Dushmantha Chameera, Binura Fernando, Dilshan Madushanka, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Jeffrey Vandersay, Maheesh Theekshana, Praveen Jayawickrama
Australia ODI squad: Aaron Finch (c), Ashton Agar, Alex Carey, Pat Cummins, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Marnus Labuschagne, Mitchell Marsh, Glenn Maxwell, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner
June 14: First ODI, Kandy, 7pm AEST
June 16: Second ODI, Kandy, 7pm AEST
June 19: Third ODI, Colombo, 7pm AEST
June 21: Fourth ODI, Colombo, 7pm AEST
June 24: Fifth ODI, Colombo, 7pm AEST
Sri Lanka Test squad (provisional): Dimuth Karunaratne (c), Pathum Nissanka, Kamil Mishara, Oshada Fernando, Kusal Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Dhananjaya De Silva, Kamindu Mendis, Niroshan Dickwella, Dinesh Chandimal, Chamika Karunaratne, Ramesh Mendis, Mohamed Shiraz, Shiran Fernando, Dilshan Madushanka, Lahiru Kumara, Kasun Rajitha, Vishwa Fernando, Asitha Fernando, Jeffrey Vandersay, Lakshitha Rasanjana, Praveen Jayawickrama, Lasith Embuldeniya, Suminda Lakshan
Australia Test squad: Pat Cummins (c), Ashton Agar, Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Josh Inglis, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Mitchell Marsh, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, David Warner
June 29 - July 3: First Test, Galle, 2.30pm AEST
July 8-12: Second Test, Galle, 2.30pm AEST
All Sri Lanka v Australia international fixtures will be screened live on Fox Cricket and Kayo Sports
Australia A fixtures
Squad: Sean Abbott, Scott Boland, Pete Handscomb, Aaron Hardie, Marcus Harris, Travis Head, Henry Hunt, Josh Inglis, Matthew Kuhnemann, Nic Maddinson, Todd Murphy, Josh Philippe, Matt Renshaw, Jhye Richardson, Tanveer Sangha, Mark Steketee
June 8: First one-day game v Sri Lanka A, Colombo
June 10: Second one-day game v Sri Lanka A, Colombo
June 14-17: first-class tour match v Sri Lanka A, Hambantota
June 21-24: first-class tour match v Sri Lanka A, Hambantota