The relentlessness of India’s attack is what sticks in Travis Head‘s mind from his experience of the 2018 Test series, as he prepares for the rematch that will begin by captaining Australia A, who have in their ranks national skipper Tim Paine, in the three-day game at Drummoyne Oval in Sydney from Sunday.
The make-up of the Indian side has yet to be confirmed, but it will be the first chance on the tour for the Test specialists to get into the middle in a proper match scenario. Head sees this and the day-night three-day game at the SCG as key parts of the series. “They are a really important couple of games for us,” he said, “not just as an Australia A squad but also an Australian squad and we want to start putting the Indian guys under pressure.”
Head was in the early days of his Test career when he was part of Australia middle order in the 2-1 series defeat, and he now feels a more complete player with 17 Tests and an average of 41.96 under his belt. However, the India attack he will face over the next six weeks retains the majority of those here two years ago – barring the injured Ishant Sharma, who dismissed him three times in the series – and Head expects a similarly demanding challenge.
“I think my game has developed a long way since then,” he said. “You take confidence from everything you’ve done, you take experiences from every game you’ve played and every team you’ve come up against. Nice to have some memories from that series, but they are an unbelievable bowling attack and being well supported throughout.
“It’s the way they were able to back up and support each other, not dissimilar to how we are with our attack, you get through the new ball and someone like [Mohammed] Shami comes on and he’s just so relentless on his length. There was just no rest that, you had to be on for every bowler. That is expected of Test cricket but that was my first real look at a quality attack like that. Those next spells are as strong as their first so you have to be on 100% of the time.”
Head recently lost the Test vice-captaincy when the role reverted to a traditional single person rather than the share job, and Pat Cummins took the title. However, as Australia plan ahead for their next leader of the Test side, whenever Paine does call it a day, Head remains the only candidate who gets regular experience in the role with his state.
“Trevor [Hohns, the chief selector] let me know they were going back to one and I’m perfectly fine with that,” Head said. “There was no real reflection on anything I’d done wrong. I had really good feedback on the way I’m developing. I was very privileged to get that opportunity in the first place having not played a great deal of Test and to be vice-captain of an Ashes series was a massive opportunity for me and something I learnt a lot from.
“I think I offered a little bit to that and have captained South Australia for a fair chunk of my career now, and it’s something that’s continued to develop. At the end of the day, I’ve got to be getting runs – if I can help on the side with leadership then fantastic.
“It’s something I really enjoy and I’m very passionate about. I’ve always said it’s not something I’m chasing or too worried about. My role doesn’t change if it’s vice-captain or not, it’s another great chance to continue to develop. Very fortunate I have Painey on my side and have chatted to him again the last few days, there’s a lot of leadership around this Australia A team so will keep picking the brains of those guys.”
Head comes into the Test build-up on the back of a productive start to the Sheffield Shield season, which included scores of 171 not and 151 in the four matches for South Australia. Since then there have had to be swift changes of plans with the Adelaide-based players hastily flown out of the city amid the Covid-19 scare last month. He has been based with the Adelaide Strikers in Coffs Harbour for the last two weeks and was very thankful for team-mates helping him with preparation.
“I was very lucky that they were able to take some time out of their personal preparation to bowl red ball at me,” he said. “For the last 15 days I have been training hard. Feel like I’m hitting the ball nicely and hopefully in the same touch as the Shield season. My cricket prep doesn’t change whether I’m in Coffs Harbour or Adelaide, it’s just 15 extra days away from home is the tough part of leaving.”
The Australia A squad includes allrounder Cameron Green, who has been released from the T20I team, but legspinner Mitchell Swepson will remain with the white-ball players so there won’t be a frontline spinner for the home side. One of the main focuses from the Australian point of view will be the performances of Joe Burns, who struggled for runs early season, and the uncapped Will Pucovski, with the duo now expected to form the opening pair in the first Test in David Warner’s absence.