Mustachioed hero Travis Head wallops India to submission in WTC final

Spread the love

Technical tweaks from Justin Langer and a strong will to shut outside noise has powered the Australian’s great run in Test cricket

It’s a familiar Australian story. Grow a moustache in tough times and transform into a mean, macho super-hero. It worked for legends down the ages, from Dennis Lillee and Allan Border to David Boon and Mitchell Johnson. It is working for Travis Head, the country’s new moustache-flaunting hero. Head’s furry crop of facial hair is not as intimidating as those of Johnson or Merv Hughes, or as handsome as that of Greg Chappell, but it embellishes his new-fangled image of a cold-eyed counterpuncher, the ice-hearted anti-hero in an 80’s movie.

From his career-salvaging Ashes hundred in Brisbane, he has repeatedly emerged as Australia’s unflinching man for crisis, the man to seize moments, the distant inheritor of the Adam Gilchrist role of shutting out all windows of the adversary’s hope in the blink of an eye.

Even as Head rushed along to his hundred, weathering a mini-bouncer barrage in his 90’s, the commentators had started to snigger about the ashes. How England will go at him at pace, how they will pose him a horde of problems. It’s something that Head must be used to by now; despite the mountain of runs, a lingering sense of doubt about him seems to be in others’ head. Not in him.

When he strode out to bat in the final, in busy strides, rotating his arms like the blades of a windmill, Australia could sniff a crisis. Upon resumption post lunch, Australia had just lost Marnus Labuschagne. There was still swing on offer, if the bowlers were probing enough. Mohammed Shami was getting into his mood for the kill. Just half an hour later, all the momentum India had gathered seemed to evaporate in the bright sunshine. In that just 30 minutes, Head had raced to 28 off 17 balls. If the Indian bowlers were caught in an IPL time-wrap, they couldn’t be blamed. For, Head had snatched the game away from them before they could even grasp the reality.

Never in those 17 balls did Head look utterly settled down. Mohammed Siraj beat him with a leg-cutter; Shami harried him with pace and bounce. That’s the thrill and theatre of watching Head bat. He seems a semi-good ball away from getting out. There’s not even an apology of front-foot stride, barely a shuffle across, the shift of weight to the back-foot seems weaker than definite, the open bat-face seems to invite edges. He has all the notes of doom in Test cricket. Yet he does not, but instead reels out hundreds of match-winning dimensions. Like the one at Oval, completed in only 106 balls.

The foundation of his success is his utmost trust in methods, besides an awareness of the game. He does not drive, because his front-foot stride cannot be long enough with his set-up; he does not look to bring the bat down straight because his hands are further from his body and he has less control when he does that. Looking to drive with a diagonal bat portends gloom, so he waits patiently on the back-foot, flexing his knees to keep the balance optimal and his movements measured and minimal.

A modicum of width and he would either punch it through covers, or glide it behind square. Seldom does he unfurl the full-pelt cut, like his South Australian predecessor Darren Lehman. Sometimes, he does not even need much width to back-cut. The ball seems too close to his body. He arches his body a fraction, dips his knee a bit and gets under the ball to cut it behind. Remarkable are his hands, dexterous and obedient to the owner’s whims. His first scoring shot, a steer down the third man exemplified the soul of his batting. The ball was on a good length, just outside the off-stump. He seemed to defend it close to his body before just opening the face of his bat to guide the ball past the gully. Shami held his hands over his head, assuming it was an edge, It was not.

As he always hangs back, he creates an illusion that they are not bowling full enough. The length keeps getting fuller and fuller, and he punishes them with the raspy flicks. Even his flicks look dicey on the eye, he always seems late in getting across, but he always keeps the shape, the head and eyes over the ball, the bat full-faced upon contract and hands working delightfully to thread the ball through the gaps.

The soul of his batting, he once said, is, “how I line the ball up, where I line the ball up and where I’m trying to play it.”: But reaching that stage was difficult, requiring a few technical tweaks and toughening up mentally. One of the cracks was he got too side-on in his stance. “As a left-hander, that can be a real curse because you’ve got the blind spot when they bowl short at you, and also it just takes your weight over a little bit. And his bat was coming back almost to middle and leg stump,” former coach Justin Langer said during a commentary stint of a domestic game in Australia.

Langer, in turn, detailed the problem to South Australia’s General Manager High Performance Tim Nielsen, who diagnosed problems with how he was picking and holding the bat. “The bat was pointing almost straight back over the middle stump in his stance, rather than him being a bit more relaxed with his bottom hand. Then, because of the way he naturally cocks his right wrist, the bat almost flays out or opens out a bit towards first slip,” he said.

The pair altered the top-hand dominant grip too. It amplified his tendency to throw his hands outside the off-stump. A bottom-hand accentuated grip was devised, which un-stiffened his legs too. “He was so much more relaxed in his hands, his bat was going out to about first slip which means he can then access both sides of the wicket,” Langer observed.

But as much as the technique, it was his will to embrace the new methods that turned his career around. “He’s got a really quick learning curve. He can try some new technical aspect for a week and then bring it into his game and have success if he believes in it, so he can turn things around really quickly.” Nielsen would say.

Maybe, the moustache had little role in his transformation, but it surely embellishes his mean-eyed counterpuncher image.

Spread the love

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *