Travis Head was devastating through the onside in building his second century of the series
Credit: DARREN ENGLAND/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Counterattacks in Test cricket do not come finer or fiercer than Travis Head’s. One minute Australia were on the ropes, for the first time this series, the next England had nobody who could bowl a dot-ball.
Easier to counterattack at number five than in the top order; nevertheless, the pink ball was only 10 overs old when Head went in at 12 for three and still jagging. It might well have continued to seam if Head and Marnus Labuschagne had allowed England to bowl a fullish length, but they instantly highlighted the brittleness of England’s current Test cricket in all departments.
Head threw his hands into driving anything wide, and whipped anything straight to leg. You would never have guessed that in Sussex’s championship batting averages last season Head is ranked between a young offspinner, Jack Carson, and an even younger legspinner, Archie Lenham, with an average of 18.
But this is what confidence can do: Head could climb into the first ball by England’s fourth seamer, Chris Woakes, and treat a wide half-volley for what it was worth, because he had staged his breakthrough Test innings of 152 in the Brisbane opener.
Now Head is the leading run-scorer in this series, even after missing the fourth Test as a Covid precaution, whereas Labuschagne would have been most people’s favourite, if not Steve Smith. The key is that in spite of a poor County Championship season in England, Head had scored a couple of centuries in his five Sheffield Shield games before this series, and a double-hundred, no less, in a 50-over inter-state game, so he was match-fit and battle-hardened from the start, whereas all of England’s players have had to ease themselves in.
Travis Head's 'wagon wheel' shows how dominant he was in the arc between long leg and mid-on
Head has another source of confidence and financial security: he is Sussex’s championship captain next season. As the county is almost bereft of senior players, Ben Brown having signed for Hampshire and Chris Jordan for Surrey, Head will have to add another mature string to his bow as the leader of the waifs and strays who finished bottom in last season’s championship.
It looks like a good signing that Jason Gillespie urged in his last year as Sussex’s coach – good for Sussex, as a long-term investment, and good for Head, who must have learnt during his truncated 2021 season how to reduce the risk of nicking off. South Australian batsmen like Head have been brought up on the flattest pitches in clubs around Adelaide, if not the Oval itself since drop-ins; his cover-driving has echoes of another forthright left-hander from the same state, the late David Hookes.
The Trojan Horse is a familiar fixture in English cricket. Labuschagne and Head have increased their experience by playing county cricket; and Labuschagne, after scoring five centuries for Glamorgan in early season, made sure the 2019 Ashes did not return to England; while Head in Brisbane hit England’s hopes, well, on the head.
County cricket is the nursery for England’s Test cricketers – and Australia’s. If Greg Chappell was the prototype, once immediate registration was allowed in 1968 (ie overseas players did not have to qualify by residence), Allan Border has averaged 53 in the championship for Essex, and Mark Waugh 59; Stuart Law averaged 58 for Essex then 55 for Lancashire; Martin Love averaged 57 for Durham and 69 for Northamptonshire; David Hussey 61 for Nottinghamshire; Darren Lehmann 68 for Yorkshire; Mike Hussey 76 for Durham and 78 for Northants. Brad Hodge and Michael Klinger were white-ball wizards for Leicestershire and Gloucestershire.
Have Trojan Horses given more to county cricket than they have taken back to Australia? The best learn from them, like the young Michael Vaughan from Lehmann.
It has not been a two-way process. Graeme Hick, Ian Botham and Vic Marks have spent the odd season in the Sheffield Shield, and Mason Crane had one game for New South Wales, but Australia has not in general been a nursery for English cricket. One anomaly: an English batsman has averaged 76 in the Shield. It was, however, the pace bowler David Millns, batting for Tasmania at 10 and 11. The Fair Trade label cannot be applied