Travis Head returned from his COVID-enforced absence to save Australia from a potentially disastrous first day of the fifth Ashes Test with his second century of the series.
Head smashed 101 after coming to the wicket when Australia were in deep trouble at 3-12 as the home side recovered to 6-241 at the end of a rain-interrupted day at Hobart.
Batting on a pitch with a decided green tinge after a wet build-up to Tasmania’s first Ashes contest, Head played with characteristic flamboyance to put the pressure back on England after they ripped through the Australian top order.
Head said he has felt a lot more relaxed at the crease since his crucial ton in the series opener at the Gabba.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) January 14, 2022
“It’s nice to contribute,” he told Channel Seven.
“I worked really hard over the last two days on wickets out the back on wickets that were really challenging.
“I was really conscious of making sure that I was making the right decisions, moving on the right balls, attacking the right ones and being hard to get out.
“I felt like I came into this Test ready to go.”
With three wickets down for not many runs on the scoreboard, Head and Marnus Labuschagne took the attack back to England but it was not a pre-conceived plan.
“There was a couple of those conversations but we just about making good movements at the ball, understanding it may be ugly in parts. Down here I’ve been in that position a few times with the bat,” he said.
“We just got off to a flyer. It was able to put pressure back on England.”
Head thinks if Australia can bat for the first session or two on Saturday, everyone single one of those runs “will be gold dust” with the pitch likely to become worse for batting over the next few days.
England could not have asked for a better start after sending Australia into bat on the grassy pitch with David Warner, Usman Khawaja and Steve Smith falling before the home side could manage more than a dozen runs.
Warner lasted 21 balls without scoring before he edged the 22nd to second slip where Zak Crawley snaffled the chance off Ollie Robinson, one of five new players in the team.
Khawaja’s dismissal for six was similar although he edged Stuart Broad to first slip where Joe Root made no mistake with the straightforward offering.
Smith’s departure for a second-ball duck came about when he was squared up by Robinson, who hit his outside edge high on the bat and it flew to Crawley.
The dire situation could have been even worse with Labuschagne also nicking to the cordon before he had opened his account off Robinson but Crawley dived to his left in front of Root and spilled a catch that should be taken at Test level.
Labuschagne dug in and adopted a philosophy of attack being the best form of defence with Head in his return to the team after missing the SCG Test due to a bout of COVID-19.
They raced to their 50-partnership in just 43 balls, playing some cracking shots more often seen in the white-ball arena to all parts of Blundstone Arena.
English paceman Mark Wood was blasted out of the attack after conceding 31 runs in a first three-over spell, figures more commonly associated with Twenty20 cricket.
Just when it looked like Australia had clawed their way back to par at the end of the first session which was delayed 30 minutes at the start due to rain, Labuschagne fell, literally, for 44 from 53 deliveries.
Labuschagne moved across his stumps but slipped and Broad’s delivery darted behind his legs to bowl him as he lost his balance and tumbled face first to the turf.
At 4-83, Australia added two more runs before the break and then Head and Cameron Green regained the momentum in the middle session, scoring at four an over, as they sped to their century partnership.
Green, emboldened after his 74 in the second innings of the fourth Test in Sydney, looked assured from the start of his knock, giving Head staunch support as the English side grew frustrated with the turnaround in fortunes with Root forced to bowl himself to get the team’s over rate back on par.
Head hit six fours and needed only 53 balls to reach 50 and kept playing his natural game of scoring at pace despite the gravity of the situation.
The South Australian left-hander powered to his fourth Test hundred, reaching the milestone in 112 deliveries by punching Chris Woakes to third man.
He then fell from the next delivery, getting a leading edge to Robinson at mid-on to be on his way for 101, ending his partnership of 115 with Green and leaving Australia at 5-204.
Green looked like he was hurtling towards his first Test ton but holed out for 74 for the second consecutive innings when he pulled Wood from around the wicket to the boundary where Crawley lay in wait.
— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) January 14, 2022
Rain cut short proceedings midway through the final session but Alex Carey (10) and Mitchell Starc (nought) will resume on day two, looking to push Australia past 300, which would turn up the heat on England’s batters on the seaming wicket.
Head’s return to the Australian line-up meant Khawaja was elevated to the top of the order with Marcus Harris paying the price for his inconsistent returns in the previous four Tests.
Jonny Bairstow was ruled out due to his thumb damage, keeper Jos Buttler has returned home with his hand injury while Jimmy Anderson was controversially dropped alongside opener Haseeb Hameed. Anderson presented new gloveman Sam Billings with his cap, the 700th Englishman to play Test cricket, while opener Rory Burns and seam duo Robinson and Woakes were brought back into the side.