Rapid-fire Head grasps Ashes chance with both hands

Brisbane (Australia) (AFP) – Travis Head said before the opening Ashes Test against England that he was in "a great space" to finally cement his place in the Australian side -- his magnificent 152 will help do just that, and then some.


The amiable 27-year-old has been in and out of the Test side since his debut in October 2018 and he only narrowly won a fierce selection battle to bat at number five at the Gabba over the in-form Usman Khawaja.

Th 34-year-old Khawaja had his backers to fill the hole left when Matthew Wade was axed, but selectors ultimately opted for the younger man -- Head being the last name to be confirmed on the Australian team sheet.

And their instincts proved right with Head pounding the third-fastest century in Ashes history -- off just 85 balls -- after Australia lost quick wickets in their first innings.

He eventually fell last-man out in Brisbane on Friday, walking off to a standing ovation in what is his 20th Test.

Former Australian captain Allan Border, now a commentator, said Head's third Test century was all the more remarkable given the pressure he was under to prove he deserved to be in the team.

"You know you're a player that's being watched closely, you've had a couple of cracks at it (being in the side)," said Border.

"All of the talk pre-series, 'Should it be him? Should it be Khawaja? Should it be someone else?’ So to then go out there and perform, it's just so satisfying."

Former Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist -- whose 57-ball ton in Perth in 2006 is the fastest in Ashes history -- added: "It's a statement of the finest quality."

See-saw fortunes

Adelaide-born Head was earmarked for big things from a young age, but his path into the Ashes history books has been far from easy.

He earned his first call-up for Australia aged 22 for a Twenty20 series against India in early 2016, then made his one-day bow later that year.

The South Australia skipper debuted for the Test side against Pakistan and played 12 on the bounce, until being dropped for the fifth Test of the 2019 Ashes, when all-rounder Mitchell Marsh was recalled to add an extra pace option.

Australia lost that game and Head, also a handy part-time spinner, returned to play in all five home Tests that summer against Pakistan and New Zealand, averaging 39.50.

But after scoring just 62 runs across the first two Tests against India late last year, Head was again dropped and lost his Cricket Australia contract altogether.

It was devastating for a player so highly thought of previously that he had been appointed co-vice-captain alongside Pat Cummins with just six Tests to his name, until Australia reverted to a single vice-captain model.

Undeterred, the left-hander knuckled down, playing county cricket with Sussex last season before a strong start to the domestic Sheffield Shield campaign earned him his recall.

"It's tough in your first little period, and going in and out (of the side), and learning my game and trying to take it to the next level," he said just before the opening Test in Brisbane.

"I feel like I've been a really consistent Shield player for a few years now and I want to translate that into Test cricket... I feel like I'm in a great space to be able to take that spot."