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Forget Steve Smith, Travis Head is the one Australia player who can match England’s Bazball tempo

To those of us who haven’t voided the 2021-22 Ashes, Travis Head’s unbeaten century on the first day of the World Test Championship final against India came as no surprise.

In the series Stuart Broad has blanked from his memory, Head was imperious, hitting two centuries in four Tests and averaging 59.60 as Australia hammered England 4-0.

We are all expecting a more even contest this summer thanks to England’s remarkable revival under coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes.

Yet Head’s form has continued from where he left off 18 months ago in Hobart, where he hit 101 in the final Test.

It’s remarkable to think Head was dropped the last time Australia played a Test at The Oval at the end of the 2019 Ashes. Even more remarkable is the fact he was dropped for Australia’s first Test in India as recently as February.

Head’s importance at No 5 this summer cannot be overstated. With Australia teetering on 76 for 3 when he came in, Head scored 28 off his first 19 balls. His half-century came in just 60 and his century in 106. By stumps he had 146 from 156 balls.

In contrast, Steve Smith, his partner during a mammoth 251-run stand, reached a painstaking 50 from 144 deliveries and at one stage went 20 overs without scoring a boundary.

By the close, with Australia dominant on 327 for three, Smith had 95 from 227 deliveries. Another century looms for the man who already has six in England and averaged 110.57 in the 2019 Ashes.

And as dangerous as Smith will again be this summer, Head may be even more important.

The 29-year-old averaged just 27.28 in the four matches he played during the 2019 Ashes. But he is a different player now. As well as his heroics against England in 2021-22, Head is coming off the back of a bountiful home Test summer where he plundered 525 runs against the West Indies and South Africa at 87.50.

What’s more, he is batting in a manner which means in this upcoming Ashes series he is the one Australian who can match England’s Bazball tempo.

Cricket - ICC World Test Championship Final - Australia v India - The Oval, London, Britain - June 7, 2023 Australia's Travis Head with teammates at the end of the days play Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs
Head made 146 not out from 156 balls on day one of the WTC final at The Oval (Photo: Getty)

Speaking on the eve of this match, it was no surprise to hear Head lauding the aggressive style England have pioneered over the past year. “I think the way they’re going about it is exciting,” he said. “It’s new and it’s fresh, and they’re coming up with a style that’s true to them and true to Baz [McCullum] and Stokes.”

Australia needed Head’s Bazballing, too, with their top order looking as vulnerable as ever in English conditions. Usman Khawaja followed up a 2019 Ashes when he was dropped after three Tests with a 10-ball duck courtesy of Mohammed Siraj.

David Warner also struggled but fought through to hit 43 before falling to Shardul Thakur. Marnus Labuschagne followed, bowled emphatically by Mohammed Shami to end an innings that saw him suffer a painful blow to the left hand that could yet have ramifications for the Ashes.

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