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Opinion

Travis Head and Tim Paine slam the door on critics

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Roar Rookie
30th December, 2019
4

In a resounding Boxing Day victory marked by several outstanding indivdual performances, Travis Head was adjudged player of the match for his superb 114.

The co-vice captain’s innings was a breakthrough effort in many respects; although he possessed a century and a decent stat line going into Melbourne, question marks remained over his temperament and stamina.

Head was fortunate to return to the team for the summer’s first Test, gaining a berth only after incumbent Mitch Marsh and prodigy Will Pucovski surrendered their claims through injury and illness respectively, while the inclusion of James Pattinson and Michael Neser throughout the summer has suggested that Australia is prepared to forgo a sixth specialist batsman in the absence of quality candidates
from a barren domestic pool.

Having little chance to show his wares against Pakistan, Head spurned a golden opportunity to cement his position at Perth, scrapping through the evening new ball before surrendering his wicket on 56 with a limp push to cover. The abrupt termination reflected a strong Test (seven half-centuries to one century) and first class (44 to 11) pattern of unconverted starts, while his second innings dismissal heightened doubts over his shot selection.

Damien Martyn (Sydney, 1994) and Brad Hodge (Sydney, 2006) can tell you how much patience Australian selectors traditionally have for brain explosions, so it was no surprise that Neser was strongly considered for Boxing Day at Head’s expense. The message was clear – show us some fight or enter the cricket wilderness.

Fight he did. Entering at 4/216 late on Day 1, quick wickets could have tilted the match New Zealand’s way. Once again, Head battled through a tricky evening period, but showed signs of evolution in his game on Day 2. In the face of accurate bowling and clever field settings, Head was noticeably more restrained, dispensing with expansive drives away from his body and avoiding uppercuts – two shots which have often led to his demise.

The new version simply waited for a bad ball.

Only when hunting quick runs did Head succumb; on another day he may well have set a new PB. Job done, his place as first batsman out is now occupied by Matthew Wade after a summer still lacking a significant contribution.

And yet, as good as Head’s innings was, another man’s contribution stood out.

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Tim Paine has had his own share of critics. Never mind calm leadership in a time of crisis, overseeing retention of the Ashes in England for the first time in 18 years, and a historically good record for an Australian wicketkeeper-batsman not named Adam Gilchrist; his position is constantly scrutinised, with Alex Carey improving rapidly and a past wicketkeeper in Wade sitting in the inner sanctum.

Tim Paine reflects on victory

(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

Carey is coming fast, so although Paine’s glovework remains generally assured, the most minuscule of errors – such as a difficult missed stumping at Adelaide – become magnified ten-fold. So when he came to the crease with his team stalled short of 300, the pressure was as intense as anything Head faced.

Nonetheless, the match situation called for impetus over bloody-minded selfishness, and Paine delivered in spades, taking Neil Wagner’s short-ball barrage on and allowing Head to take his time. A maiden Test century seemed certain until he fell victim to a marginal DRS overturn.

The confidence rubbed off in the field with four excellent dismissals among Paine’s eight for the match, including a steepler at fine leg, a diving effort across first slip, a swift stumping and a terrific catch up to the stumps. Throw in sound captaincy and you have a solid all-round display.

But arguments over the rightful player of the match are largely moot. The main takeout for both players is that their places are locked in for the foreseeable future.

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