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Head and shoulders above: Why Trav is the key to Australia's T20 World Cup success

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16th May, 2024

In just under three weeks, the 2024 Men’s T20 World Cup will commence in Texas as the United States face off against Canada in the strangest opening match of any international cricket tournament. The two teams contested the first international cricket match in 1844 which will no doubt be forcefully engrained into the minds of every cricket fan by the time the tournament rolls around.

For Australia, they embark on a quest to regain the title they lost on home soil in 2022 after failing to qualify from the group stage. Since then, Australia went on to win the 2023 Men’s ODI World Cup in emphatic fashion after losing their opening two matches of the tournament.

If Australia are to repeat that success in this tournament, they’ll hold all World Cup titles across Men’s and Women’s cricket.

What became apparent during the ODI World Cup and has since been verified during the Indian Premier League is that Travis Head is going to be key to any success in the upcoming World Cup.

The 30-year-old missed the first half of the ODI WC through injury but returned for Australia’s sixth match of the tournament against New Zealand. There he blasted a 67-ball 109 in an opening partnership of 179 from 19 overs with David Warner.

By the time the finals rolled around, Head hadn’t reproduced the magic of his debut World Cup innings. However, in the semi-final, Head was awarded Player of the Match for a 48-ball 62 alongside two wickets that helped Australia past South Africa and then, repeated his Herculean efforts with 137 against India to win Australia their first ODI World Cup since 2015. Travis Head had officially arrived on the white-ball scene.

Travis Head. Photo: AFP


Prior to that tournament, Head had shown potential to be a destructive opener in the white-ball formats but only nailed down a permanent opening spot during the 2022/23 Australian summer. Since that moment, the South Australian has developed his game to become one of the most damaging openers in cricket.

This has become evident during the 2024 IPL, where Head has formed one of the most incredible opening partnerships in the competition’s history with Abhishek Sharma for Sunrisers Hyderabad. Most notably, the pair crushed Lucknow Super Giants last week, scoring 167 for the loss of no wicket in just 9.4 overs as they successfully chased down the target of 166 with ease. Head made 89 from just 30 deliveries, 16 of which were boundaries.

That innings isn’t an anomaly. The Australian has been one of the best batters in the tournament and currently has the second most runs by an opener with 533, only behind Virat Kohli’s 661. What is of most interest, and the reason for this piece, is Head’s incredible strike rate. The South Australian is striking at 201.89 runs per 100 balls, or just over 12 runs per over.

It’s by far the best mark of any of the top-ten run-scoring openers in the IPL (Sunil Narine is second with a strike rate of 182.94) and it’s a key reason behind Sunrisers Hyderabad’s success this season. Head’s strike rate follows a trend of extremely high-scoring matches which were previously unseen in T20 cricket around the world. Teams are breaking all sorts of records with eight of the nine highest totals in the tournament’s history being set this season.

The player substitute rule contributes to this as teams are essentially playing an extra batter, creating more freedom for the players at the top of the order as the value of their wicket has essentially lowered. While this won’t be present during the T20 World Cup, Australia will be looking for Head to reproduce his IPL efforts.

Not only is Head the second top run-scoring opener, but he boasts the third-highest strike rate amongst the same group, trailing only teammate Abhishek Sharma (203.29) and fellow countryman Jake Fraser-McGurk (238.64), whose own IPL has been insane.

HOBART, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 09: David Warner of Australia

David Warner. (Photo by Simon Sturzaker/Getty Images)

Fraser-McGurk missed out on selection for the T20 World Cup with Australia set to open with Head and veteran David Warner. They’ve produced explosive opening partnerships in the past, as evident against New Zealand in the ODI World Cup and will be aiming to do so again this time around. Warner has struggled with injury and form during this IPL, scoring 168 runs in eight innings, striking at 134.40, yet Australia isn’t as reliant on their OG T20 opener as they once were.

In fact, he’ll be the least explosive of the pair in the upcoming tournament and may relish the release of pressure as opposition teams look to stop Head, particularly in the powerplay where he has been so devastating during the IPL. Head has scored, by far, the most runs in the powerplay in this edition of the IPL, smashing bowlers to all parts for 385 runs, 64 ahead of Kohli in second place, whilst boasting an incredible strike rate of 220.

Out of the top-ten powerplay runscorers, that strike rate is second to only again, Fraser-McGurk, who is scoring an unfathomable 250.94 runs per 100 balls in the powerplay. On a side note, these stats make a compelling case for having Fraser-McGurk in the squad. Andrew McDonald and George Bailey decided against it for reasons that do have some merit, but it could turn out to be a missed trick.

Back on track. If Head can reproduce his performances for the T20 World Cup at even 80 per cent, Australia are going to be off to plenty of flying starts. It must be noted that the pitches in the West Indies and the USA aren’t going to be as batter friendly as India, pitches which are so friendly that Head has struck a boundary from every 2.9 deliveries he’s faced. In general, the pitches should play slower, making it harder for batters to hit the ball as cleanly as they have in the IPL.

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That said, Head is a world-class batter, and if he’s shown anything over the last 18 months, it’s that he can play in a range of conditions. He may have only played one international in the West Indies, way back in 2016, yet he’s still going to be Australia’s most important player. There are valuable players that will need to perform all throughout Australia’s squad, but if Head can play the way he is currently, he won’t only be Australia’s most valuable player, he may be the most valuable player in the tournament.