Whatever the format, Travis Head has become the ultimate big-game player

Travis Head - Travis Head is the ultimate Bazballer – and he has become the ultimate big-game player
Travis Head's innings of 137 helped ease Australia to World Cup victory at a partisan Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad - APF/Punit Paranjpe

In June, the most-watched Test match ever, the World Test Championship final, was played. On Sunday, the most-watched one-day international match ever, the World Cup final, was played. For all that cricket’s red and white-ball formats appear to be diverging, Australia and India qualified for both marquee events – and 12 players, six from both sides, appeared in both matches. On both occasions, the other 21 players were all eclipsed by a buccaneering, moustached left-hander named Travis Head.

At The Oval five months ago, Head arrived at the crease with Australia an awkward 76 for three; he responded with a magisterial 163. In Ahmedabad, Head – now opening, rather than at number five – defied outstanding new-ball bowling and the braying of over 100,000 Indian fans to turn a hazardous 47 for three into a cruise to the victory target of 241. Two international finals, five months apart; the same player of the match. Like an actor as comfortable behind the footlights as in front of the camera, Head has thrived in the marquee events of the red and white-ball games alike.

His twin peaks have come while retaining the same essential method. Head scored at virtually a-run-a-ball in the World Test Championship final. Yet while Head brings the spirit of a pugilist to batting, whatever the format, in Ahmedabad he also showed the selectivity of classical Test match batsmanship. After two trademark boundaries – driven through the off side, with little regard either for foot movement or Jasprit Bumrah’s pedigree – in the opening over, Head recognised that the notoriously onerous twilight period called for more caution. Abetted by several plays and misses, he scored just two from his next 19 balls even playing out a maiden. Two consecutive boundaries off Mohammed Shami – the first steered through third man, the next characteristically driven straight – signalled that batting was now less taxing. Hereafter Head was chanceless and – whether slog-sweeping spin or slamming pace bowlers down the ground or pulling them through midwicket – seldom less than imperious.

Travis Head was player of the match in the World Test Championship final against India this summer
Travis Head was player of the match in the World Test Championship final against India this summer - Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs
Travis Head
And he was also the star of the show as Australia won their sixth World Cup against the hosts in Ahmedabad - Reuters/Andrew Boyers

The tempo of Head’s innings – a blistering start, then stagnation, and then acceleration anew – reflects his career. A prodigy in South Australia, Head was captaining his first-class side aged 21, and a white-ball international aged 22. Yet his occasional explosive innings for Australia were too rare: in 2019, Head wasn’t picked for the World Cup and was then dropped during the Ashes.

Fulfilment came after Head was dropped for a second time in Tests. Recalled for the 2021 Ashes, Head was freed from his straitjacket; he thrashed an 85-ball century on his return, and has averaged 50 since his Test comeback.

Head’s style and substance in the red-ball game demanded a one-day recall too. After mostly being used in the middle order during his earlier stint as an ODI player, Head was now promoted to open; from laying waste to tiring Test attacks, now his audacity could take down fresh white-ball attacks. Head’s relish for attacking from the outset is ideally suited to taking advantage of only two fielders being allowed out at the start of an innings; his technique is generally durable enough to endure the passages of venomous swing and seam that have marked this World Cup.

In a tournament that has demanded that players summon the best of both Test and T20 skills, Head’s 137 at Ahmedabad stands as an exemplar. It followed on from his player-of-the-match display in the semi-final against South Africa – and wonderful catch, diving over his left shoulder running back from cover to dismiss Rohit Sharma, which was perhaps the single most important moment of the final. Even for one of Australia’s greatest ever teams, Head was worth the wait: he was picked in the World Cup squad even though he was not fit to play until their sixth group match.

Travis Head catches Rohit Sharma
It wasn't just with the bat that Head contributed as he took a wonderful catch to send Rohit Sharma back to the pavilion - Reuters/Andrew Boyers

It is a fallacy that the biggest matches are always decided by the greatest players. In 2016 alone, Carlos Brathwaite – career T20I average of 14.8 – won West Indies the T20 World Cup final and Portugal’s Eder – five goals in 35 internationals – scored the only goal in the 2016 European Championship final.

Yet Cricket’s ODI World Cup final has been a field in which excellence on the day has been reserved for the most outstanding players. Until Ahmedabad, only six men had scored centuries in the World Cup final, white and red-ball greats all: Clive Lloyd, Viv Richards, Aravinda de Silva, Ricky Ponting, Adam Gilchrist and Mahela Jayawardene.

Travis Head
Head became only the seventh man to score a ton in a World Cup final - Reuters/Adnan Abidi

Head, of course, is not quite in this company. But his century was a worthy addition to the rarefied club; given the opposition and the occasion, it ranks alongside those by Lloyd and de Silva among the very best in World Cup finals. Aged 29, and with a swagger at the crease growing with every innings, Head has ample time for an encore on the game’s greatest stages – whether against the white ball or red.

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