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World Test Championship

Head carves coming-of-age knock to confirm ‘Travball’ is here to stay

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read

Ben Gardner was at The Oval to witness Travis Head’s maiden Test hundred outside Australia, a coming-of-age knock at the start of a defining stretch for Pat Cummins’ side.

“Yeah they’re calling it Travball. You know, like Bazball? No, I know there’s no alliteration. Yeah I’m not sure if anyone calls him Trav. No it’s not a whole team style of play thing, it’s just the one guy. Oh look, he’s hit another boundary.” – imagined conversation between two spectators at The Oval.

By now, the -ball thing is here to stay, to the point where it’s basically lost all meaning. At most, it’s anyone doing anything good. The goat emoji in suffix form. Cricket, ever inferior to football (as in, the sport, rather than Mark Footitt-ball), has co-opted the terminology wholesale.


With Travis Head though, it makes sense. Not just because he’s Australia’s most Stokes-ready cricketer, scoring at a run a ball whatever the occasion, but also because, as with the endeavours of Brendon McCullum’s men, everything he’s done so far has been met with a chorus of caveats, bowlers as yet unbeaten and points still unproven.

First it was only Sri Lanka, a brisk hundred not quite enough to keep him in situ until the end of the 2019 Ashes. Then it was only New Zealand, who Australia always beat, and who were bruised and depleted as Head crashed a Boxing Day hundred. The Ashes awaited, and a record hundred arrived. But England were at their lowest ebb and after another bumper home summer came and went, Head’s position was somehow still precarious. He still hadn’t done it overseas, and when he was left out for the first Test against India, you wondered if he ever would.

He got his chance in the second, promoted to open with David Warner injured and crashed 43, though Australia still lost heavily. In the third, a rapid, unbeaten 49 sucked the air out of a tense chase and gave Australia a win for the ages. In the fourth came his highest overseas score, but a maiden hundred on the road would have to wait, Head out for 90 as the game petered to a draw.

Still the questions remained. Coming into the tour of England, Head’s average outside of Australia stood below 30. The seaming, swinging ball had proved too much last time. Sure, England had been able to smash the Duke’s all around, but whether this pretender could was still undecided.

And for those who want to quibble, the debate still stands. India are without Jasprit Bumrah, and went in without R Ashwin too. Mohammed Shami and Mohammed Siraj were excellent with the new ball, but Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur represented a sharp drop-off. Technically, in the ‘away’ column in the stats profile, the hundreds tally still reads ‘0’, this being on neutral ground. Just wait until we get you to Edgbaston.

And it’s true that Head didn’t charge at India, blitz them off their lengths in a flurry of furious strokes. But he didn’t need to. Head scored at nearly a run a ball and only hit one six, and even then he just used the pace, guiding over the slips and just beyond the ropes. Beyond that, he did what came naturally, punching straight and through cover when full, pouncing on anything a fraction short, running hard and running well. There was the odd drive on the up, but for the most part this was clean, crisp batting, and all the greater for it. “If runs are presented, if the ball’s there, I’m looking to score off it,” he said at stumps.

You only needed to watch him to see a player transformed, a batter with total clarity, reacting to the ball rather than worrying about the conventions of the Test game, as has been the case throughout his reinvention. There was a contrast to Steve Smith, the No.4 on 53 as the No.5 brought up his hundred having faced 50 balls fewer, but also a similarity. Smith operates in his own bubble, each leave-jerk and meme-able reaction only possible if he realy doesn’t care what anybody else thinks. Bat like no one is watching.

Likewise, Head is answering the doubters, but there’s also a sense that he doesn’t mind if there are those who doubt him. Head will pull in the punters, but if an attacking shot goes awry, an army of Aussie ex-pros will be waiting to pounce, lambast him for his choice of stroke, attire, facial hair. While he’s middling them, that won’t matter.

This was a coming-of-age knock, a career high point in a global final at the start of a defining two months for Pat Cummins’ Australia, and with it came the feeling that Head can be the main man of this batting line-up, more than just a supporting act to the heroics of Smith or Marnus Labuschagne. That’s important for Australia, because this is a line-up that will, in not too long, take on a different complexion. David Warner has marked out his retirement date, with the subtext that the selectors had better let him stick around until then. Usman Khawaja is 36, and Steve Smith is 34. Head has flirted with captaincy honours, and while this is firmly Cummins’ side, he showed he can be a leader, spiritually at least, when the time comes.

For now, he has work to do, and something truly monumental on the horizon. The pitch, and the bowling attack, will flatten out. He is unbeaten on 146 at stumps, with runs coming freely, and Australia looking to grind India down. If the ball is there to be hit, you can be sure Head will.

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