When Australia touched the English shores in 2015, their first-choice middle-order composed of Steve Smith, Michael Clarke, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and Adam Voges.
The subsequent games had Mitchell Marsh and Peter Nevill added into the mix as replacements. But the visitors couldn’t find a way to stop the English juggernaut, despite lofty expectations.
Undeniably, Australia carried batsmen who were adept and experienced enough to prosper in the conditions. As a result of failing to retain the urn Brad Haddin and Michael Clarke called it quits, leaving a gaping hole in the Australian middle-order.
Back then, Travis Head remained under the radar to represent Australia and stayed far from knocking the doors fiercely.
His turning point came when he replaced Johan Botha as the captain of the South Australian side for the 2015-16 Sheffield Shield season. As skipper, the stylish left-hander amassed 721 runs at an average of 36.05. Amid this, red-ball cricket had to wait in the wings.
Australia’s white-ball cricket also began to show signs of decline – their middle-order being in focus in both the limited-overs and the extended formats of the game.
Giving Head the nod looked a promising move, for he provided the flexibility of playing as a floater batsman. But Australia’s messed up state of affairs with regards to one-day cricket and Head’s inconsistent returns meant that he was sidelined from the one day setup.
But Steve Smith’s banishment from international cricket for a year opened up as many as three spots in the Test team, for the former Australian captain batted out to cover the wobbly line-up.
Head’s persistently strong domestic showing and an even better outing as part of Australia A in India helped seal his inclusion against Pakistan in a two-Test series.
Not that the South Australian found the recipe to succeed in the longest format instantly, but he kept himself ticking along and progressed well across series against Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka.
Having been rewarded a spot in the Ashes, the expectations on Head had increased tenfold. Sure, Smith out-batted every batsman in the side, seizing the spotlight – however, the left-hander’s role in resurrecting the sinking ship in the first innings went less noticeable.
Head walked out at the crease after the faintest of edges plucked Khawaja’s wicket at crossroads. It was again Smith to the rescue.
It had Gabba Ashes 2017 written all over it, and the former Australian skipper knew it rested upon him to hold the fort – and the aggressiveness had to wait. However, Travis Head’s audacious yet marginally risk-free approach from the other end had its flair.
He weathered the storm brought by Chris Woakes and Stuart Broad. He marauded Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali. And in the process, the elegant left-hander overcame the anxiety heading into his maiden Ashes outing.
The second innings brought another gritty knock out of him that culminated in another match-turning partnership of the Test. Against Worcestershire, he protected the ship from sinking with a mature century.
Head has proved that he has got the temperament to succeed at the Test level quite early in his career. The 25-year old has demonstrated himself as a consummate sidekick for Steve Smith, the reliability of which may also get severely tested at least once in the ongoing series.
Although Australia’s middle-order seems to come in excellent shape, their openers must show the steel to succeed in the UK.