Head's start for Test openings | cricketnetwork.com

Head's start for Test openings

10 August 2018

Redbacks skipper takes on leadership job with Australia A and eyes a maiden Baggy Green

Travis Head need search no further than the captains' honour board at Adelaide Oval to understand how fleeting are the opportunities to seize a batting berth in Australia's Test line-up.

South Australia's three most-capped captains before Head earned the title at age 21 were former national coach Darren Lehmann, his current West End Redbacks mentor Jamie Siddons, and the late David Hookes.

First, third and 13th respectively on the all-time list of Sheffield Shield runs scorers with more than 33,000 between them, yet a combined aggregate of just 50 Test appearances.

Head, whose growing leadership acumen has seen him installed as skipper of the Australia A outfit that begins a two-week ODI tour to India in coming days, understands that while his first-class career likely has a decade or more still to unfurl, he might never see a better chance to snare a Baggy Green Cap.

The removal of half Australia's incumbent Test top-order – captain Steve Smith, his deputy David Warner and opener Cameron Bancroft – through suspension means opportunities historically more scarce than a British heatwave have opened up for the most compelling candidates.

And the only competitive cricket on offer for those pushing their claims between now and the naming of the next Test squad – to contest the two-match series against Pakistan in the UAE starting in October – is the imminent Australia A tour to India.

As captain of the squad that will contest the 50-overs component against India A and South Africa A, and one of a group of aspirants (that also includes Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja and Kurtis Patterson) named for a subsequent pair of four-day fixtures against the host nation, Head knows he holds his own destiny.

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Even though he'll be doing his darndest to push that front-of-mind consideration firmly to the back.

"In the past there has probably been small opportunities, probably not as many as there are now, but little gaps where if I did string a couple of scores together there would be an opportunity," Head said in Brisbane today as the Australia A squad finalised pre-departure preparations.

"But I wasn't able to do that.

"In the past, I've probably thought about it a little bit and tried too hard and probably overdone it.

"There's opportunities there (but) it's not something that I'm going to try and think about too much.

"I've probably done that when I was a little bit younger and didn't quite crack it, and this is a good opportunity.

"I want to be (playing for Australia) in all three formats of the game, so I'll be working hard to get as many runs as possible but not try to over-complicate it or think too much about it.

"I'm just trying to stay as relaxed as possible, and try and win games of cricket in India.

"That's the main goal for me.

"I'm ready to go, so hopefully I can have a nice month over there and put some scores together."

True to his philosophy, Head hasn't allowed himself time to ruminate over the most radical shake-up of Australia's Test team since the exodus of star trio Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer at the close of the 2006-07 Ashes summer.

Between his commitments with Australia's ODI and T20I squads for their winter campaigns in the UK and Zimbabwe, he represented Worcestershire in England's county competition, with varying degrees of success in red and white-ball formats.

His first-class figures show 339 runs from 11 innings at an average of 33.9 and a top score of 62, while in the domestic T20 format his four matches yielded 120 runs at a strike rate of almost 145.

Head rates his England returns as "okay" and concedes he failed to convert a few solid starts into substantial scores, but believes the experience he gained and the fitness platform he's built should hold him in solid stead for the India campaign, and beyond.

Given the understated authority with which he's installed himself in Australia's white-ball planning – he's already equalled Hookes's tally of ODI appearances and in the past year only Marcus Stoinis has played more combined one-day and T20 matches for Australia – it's easy to overlook Head's comparative youth.

But at age 24 and with more than three seasons of captaincy under his belt with South Australia and the Adelaide Strikers in the KFC Big Bash League, Head is already the second-most experienced skipper in domestic ranks behind 35-year-old George Bailey.

His appointment to lead the Australia A one-day squad which includes Test-capped players Khawaja, Handscomb, Matthew Renshaw and Ashton Agar indicates selectors see a future leadership position for him somewhere in the national set-up.

For now, Head is simply soaking up the advice and the actions of other skippers and mentors he's encountered at state and international level, and in offshore competitions that he's been involved in.

"Not really conversations, but just watching and being around the group in the (recent UK) one-day series," Head revealed when asked if he'd spoken with newly appointed Test captain Tim Paine and coach Justin Langer as to the style of leadership that's expected.

"It was nice to sit back and watch that, and learn from that.

"I've obviously always watched different leaders and different guys, and how they go about things.

"I keep learning – I'm still young – and keep developing that skill, and keep asking a lot of questions of the senior guys." 

Australia A Tour of India

Australia A one-day squad: Travis Head (c), Alex Carey (vc), Ashton Agar, Peter Handscomb, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Michael Neser, Joel Paris, Matthew Renshaw, Jhye Richardson, D'Arcy Short, Billy Stanlake, Mitch Swepson, Chris Tremain, Jack Wildermuth

Schedule

One-day fixtures in Vijayawada

17 August v India A

19 August v South Africa A

21 August v India B

23 August v India A

25 August v South Africa A

27 August v India B

29 August - Quad-Series Final

Australia A four-day squad: Mitchell Marsh (c), Alex Carey (vc), Ashton Agar, Brendan Doggett, Peter Handscomb, Travis Head, Jon Holland, Usman Khawaja, Michael Neser, Joel Paris, Kurtis Patterson, Matthew Renshaw, Mitch Swepson, Chris Tremain

Four-day fixtures in Vizag

2-5 September v India A

8-11 September v India A

About the Writer

 @ARamseyCricket
@ARamseyCricket

Andrew Ramsey is the senior writer for cricket.com.au. He previously wrote for the Guardian, The Australian, The Times, The Telegraph, The Hindu and Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and the author of The Wrong Line.