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Head clear-minded after Cummins’ counsel

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Left hander claimed the Compton-Miller medal after being given the freedom to play his way in the Ashes

Travis Head was the last man picked in Australia’s team for the Gabba, and five Tests later he was player of the series.

Not even the most ardent of Head fans could have predicted he would have such a profound impact on this Ashes, plundering two incredible centuries and finishing as the leading runscorer on both sides.

But it’s a triumph for Australia’s selectors, management, and new captain Pat Cummins for how they have handled Head.

There were concerns floating around domestic circles prior to the series about the quality of his domestic runs and the manner of his dismissals. He had pounded centuries and double centuries at Karen Rolton Oval in Adelaide, which has been a graveyard for bowlers, while his lean returns at Test grounds like Bellerive Oval, the WACA and Adelaide Oval were noteworthy. But the manner in which he fell at those grounds was of more concern.

Twice he chipped catches infront of the wicket at Adelaide Oval off Queensland quick Mark Steketee. He was bounced out in both innings at the WACA by the medium pace of Cameron Gannon and Hilton Cartwright. On a green seamer at Bellerive, he attempted a lead-footed drive on the up on 14 and chopped on.

But selectors George Bailey and Justin Langer, both big supporters of Head, backed him over Usman Khawaja, and then Cummins gave him the freedom he needed to deliver a century in a session in Brisbane and a century under pressure in Hobart.

“Pat’s giving me the confidence to go out and play,” Head said. “He alluded to that game at Optus Stadium [against India in 2018]. He said look, if you take the game on and you get [caught] at third man a couple of times and you’re playing the right way it’s no skin off his nose and he backs me in 100%. And that probably gave me the confidence going into the series to be myself and play the situation as I see it.”

Cummins believes Head plays differently and needs to be treated differently to get the most out of him.

“He goes about it a little bit differently to most other batters, which is his biggest strength,” he said. “So, as a captain, I don’t care if he gets out in non-traditional ways. I just want him to go out, be free and play his game. I think being dropped last year and coming back in this year, he came with a real calmness about him, a real confidence, and you saw that straightaway in the Gabba.”

Head stressed that he hasn’t been given a built-in excuse to play with reckless abandon. The laissez-faire ‘that’s just the way I play’ mentality that has crept into a generation of young Australian batters at the lower levels has been a bugbear of Langer’s in particular.

“I went through a period of time where I understand that dismissals might not look the best and I might get caught at third man or flap at a bowler and obviously I don’t want to do that,” Head said. “My default as a batter, technically, is if I nicked the ball, I throw my hands through it, because it hasn’t hit my bat and it’s a mistake and I try to sort of catch the moment as such and it doesn’t look pretty. In Melbourne, I was disappointed with my shot, as I nicked it I exaggerated it and make it look a little bit worse, but I try and work extremely hard on that.”

Head credited Langer and South Australia general manager of cricket Tim Nielsen following his century on the opening day in Hobart for helping him instill a more ruthless approach to training, where he has wanted to be harder to get out as he simulates match conditions.

“I haven’t traditionally been the best net batter in the past and it’s something that I’ve worked really hard on, being hard to get out in the nets,” Head told Channel Seven. “Over the last two days [at training], I was really conscious of making sure that I was making the right decisions, moving on the right balls, attacking the right ones, defending the right ones, and being hard to get out. I felt like I had come into this Test feeling ready to go.”

It’s a sign of Head’s growing maturity, and he now wants to translate his success from this series overseas in the upcoming tours of Pakistan and Sri Lanka with the help of Nielsen, Langer and others.

“I’ll look at what the expected conditions may look like over the next couple of weeks to know what I have to do mindset-wise to prepare for that,” Head said. “Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll definitely look at the places I can get better. I’ve got so many resources at my [disposal], it’s amazing to have. I’ll dive into every one of those minds and then continue to work on my game.”

Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo

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ESPNcricinfo is a sports news website exclusively for the game of cricket. The site features news, articles, live coverage of cricket matches, and StatsGuru, a database of historical matches and players from the 18th century to the present. As of March 2018, Sambit Bal was the editor.

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