Playing against India in a World Cup final in their home country with 130,000 screaming fans, all of which are barracking for the opposition, would be too much to handle for most, but not Travis Head.
The South Australian had the chance to live out a childhood dream on Sunday night as he constructed an encapsulating innings to lead Australia to World Cup glory.
After back-to-back heavy defeats at the hands of India and South Africa to start their campaign, many critics and fans believed the Aussies would be given an early tournament exit. However, they would be completely mistaken.
The most important players for the Australians weren’t performing to a level we’d come to expect, but after some tough conversations, the team found their groove.
Following consecutive early losses, the Aussies weren’t afforded the luxury of resting key players or losing the odd game. Away from home and with criticism coming from all angles, the odds were stacked against them but the playing group refused to lay down.
They would go on to churn out commanding performances in victories over Sri Lanka and Pakistan, but it seemed things really started to click after their 309-run annihilation of the Netherlands – an innings that included a batting masterclass by Glenn Maxwell.
Fast forward almost a month, and they were meeting South Africa in yet another World Cup semi-final. In a gripping contest, the Aussies scraped through in a low-scoring affair on a challenging wicket, largely thanks to important contributions by Travis Head (62 runs) and Steve Smith (30).
The win meant Australia would meet a formidable Indian outfit on their home turf. Going through the whole tournament undefeated, the home side looked invincible and it looked like it would be a tall order for the Aussies to claim their sixth ODI World Cup title.
Pat Cummins’s men went in as major underdogs, with a complete performance needed to dethrone an irrepressible Rohit Sharma-led side. A brave decision to bowl first by Cummins raised eyebrows at first, and when India was 1-76 in the 10th over with a rampant Sharma at the crease, things looked ominous.
A brilliant catch by Head moments later to dismiss Sharma for 47 proved pivotal in stifling a strong batting order, remarkably restricting the Indians to just four boundaries in the last 40 overs. Regular wickets kept the home side quiet, with India being bowled out for a modest score of 240.
Solid contributions from Mitchell Starc (3/55), Hazlewood (2/60) and captain Cummins (2/34) were vital in Australia’s bowling innings. Turning to the Australian’s batting innings, they started with a bang in the chase – scoring 15 off Jasprit Bumrah’s first over.
However, they would quickly lose the wickets of David Warner (7), Mitch Marsh (15) and Steve Smith (4), to leave the away side reeling at 3/47. When the latter chose not to review an LBW decision that was proven to be impacting outside off-stump, the Aussies looked in massive trouble.
“From my angle, and it’s hard on my angle, it looked out, and I think if Smudge [Steve Smith] ever feels not out he’ll review it, and [it was a] blessing in disguise with Marn playing,” Head said.
“But oh, disappointing when those things happen and Marn rides every wave. I look up at the big screen and Marns shaking his head and blowing up when we’re trying to bat in a partnership. They played it straight away and he’s [Labuschagne] down there kicking dirt and shaking his head.”
Australia’s hopes then rested firmly on Travis Head and Marnus Labuschagne, with Bumrah and co steaming into deafening sirens and chants. The pair of Head and Labuschagne pushed through, setting about chasing down the nearly 200 more required runs for victory.
After initially struggling to get going, Head started to play with his trademark aggressive flair, with Labuschagne playing the anchoring role.
The pitch began to gradually get better with the effect of the dew setting in, as the pair compiled a massive partnership to inch closer to one of their great victories.
This saw them pass Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden for the second-highest World Cup partnership, with Head moving to a remarkable century and Labuschagne providing abled support, passing fifty.
The crowd became stunned, reduced to complete silence as if you could hear a pin drop. In attempting to hit one out of the ground, Head was caught on the boundary for a remarkable 137, with two runs required for a famous World Cup victory.
Glenn Maxwell came out and finished the job to a stream of yellow running onto the ground. Players and coaches were mobbed as Pat Cummins’s men produced a remarkable turnaround to claim a record sixth title.
Travis Head would be named Man of the Match, becoming just the fifth Australian player to hit a century in an ODI World Cup final and third man following Adam Gilchrist and Ricky Ponting.
Post-match Head said he didn’t know if he would initially play in the World Cup after being in serious doubt from suffering a broken hand in a series against South Africa.
“Yeah, straight away I thought that [World Cup dreams were over]. Once I saw the x-ray I think looking back from the start in South Africa, each day I got better news,” Head said.
“Day one looked likely that it was going to be over and day two was likely that I wasn’t going to need surgery, which was nice. Then day three as I left it was like “hey good luck” and “we’re thinking about holding on” [to you in the squad], so the news got better as those three or four days went on.”
“I got home, saw the surgeon and got the all clear, just hoped that it [the surgery] did its thing and very happy that it did. The SACA [South Australian Cricket Association] was great, the staff here obviously Ronny [Andrew McDonald] and Cummo [Pat Cummins] putting a bit of faith in me as well, holding me in the squad.”
Cummins said it was a major risk keeping the flamboyant left-hander in the squad, but the risk proved to pay off big-time in the end.
“Trav Head, we thought his world cup was straight over, it wasn’t until the next night afterwards where Ronny [Andrew McDonald] came up to me, he’s like “haven’t slept all last night, I think we’ve got to keep him, we’re going to take the risk”.
“He might be right for the Netherlands and then if we’re going to make the finals and we want to win the World Cup, I think he needs to be there for the finals, so it was his idea.
He found his way back in the squad, marking his return with a glistening century against the Kiwis, making 109 runs off just 67 balls. He then went on to make a vital contribution of 62 on a difficult wicket in the semi-final against South Africa and was primed before blasting a World Cup-winning 137 against India.
Despite the pressure and frantic atmosphere, Head felt calm and clear of mind, executing his game to a tee after multiple nervous moments early in his innings.
“It’s been documented that I’m not a great net batter, so I think my first 20 balls might’ve been in the nets, I could not lay bat on it and struggled a fair bit. It’s a decider, obviously Bumrah, amazing bowler, had it shifting a little bit, I just tried to stay in the moment,” Head said.
“I felt in control [out in the middle]. Hard to put words into how it felt, I felt so in control with Marn [Marnus Labuschagne] out there, obviously we’ve batted heaps together.
“We spoke about not leaving anything on the table and not taking anything to chance. There was a few times I took a couple of risks and I wanted to be positive and aggressive, and drew back on the things I did really well in the test tour,” he said.
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After strong form over the summer, Head looked a lock to start in the middle order for Australia’s test series in India. Despite a strong lead-up, he was overlooked for the first test before playing the last three tests.
Although it was a tough time, Head believes it provided motivation and a silver lining to experience those conditions and get equipped for similar challenges in the World Cup.
“It’s all part of the journey, I think looking back on that [Test series], I would’ve loved to have played, maybe it was a blessing in disguise because it gave me an extra week in India, gave me a look at what it was like. [It] gave me an extra week to work on things I wanted to work on, and I guess get a sneak peak of what I was going to walk into,” Head said.
“In that series [against South Africa] I opened the batting which I think is probably the best place to bat. I was fortunate how the cards fell in that series, but then I was also able to take my chance and get some runs, so I draw back on that blueprint and the memories I have from that.”
In the wake of his herculean innings, the explosive opener revealed that he spoke to coach Andrew McDonald the day before about specific tactics to counter a strong Indian attack, with the backing of the former Australian player.
“I spoke yesterday to Ron [McDonald] about trying to get back to how I played in the test series, staying very leg side, getting my legs out of the way of it, hitting the ball and being positive,” he said.
“The ball took some spin, and I was pleased that I drew back on those experiences and to have the composure around that was nice. To have Marnus out there was good, but to imagine getting a hundred in a World Cup final, it’s crazy.”
Despite the dire situation early in the Aussies’ chase, the left-hander was unflappable in his quest for victory. Describing the emotions of being “in awe” and that he “couldn’t quite believe what was happening”.
“With about 30 or 40 to win I think, I feel like if I could be positive and take a couple of chances, I did against Jadeja over the wicket, I felt like I could attack that. Once they went to the short ball plans, I think there were 30 win, it’s just amazing how quick it went,” he said.
“Going from 3/40 or whatever we did, to looking up at the scoreboard and seeing 30 [required runs] on there, I couldn’t believe it. The last 15 or 20 runs were quite hard, I was sort of in awe about it and couldn’t quite believe what was happening.”
Perhaps the vital diving catch he took to dismiss a rampaging Rohit Sharma could be lost in the Head’s performance. It seemingly halted and shifted all momentum Australia’s way for much of the game.
“I can’t believe what happened more, getting a hundred and winning a World Cup or taking the catch,” Head said jokingly.
“It was an important wicket; I didn’t think I was going to get there at first. The ball sort of started to spin back to me a little bit and then I held onto it, thank God I did because Rohit’s obviously an unbelievable player and he was very threatening in that situation.”
Head said the sheer shock of the magnitude of what he and his team were about to achieve towards the back end of the chase, left him stunned.
“I looked up and sort of needed 30 to win, I still couldn’t believe what was going on, but I just wanted to stay in the moment and just to react to the ball and play. The cards have been dealt a nice way and to be able to contribute on the biggest stage, it’s going to take a long time for that to sink in, it’s amazing,” he said.
With the pressure of the situation, most would be overawed, but Australia’s superstar opener kept things simple and tried to stay calm in one of the most stressful environments a player will ever endure.
“130,000 [people] in a World Cup final, but all you got to do is hit the little white thing that’s coming down at you,” Head said while laughing.
It was extra special for Head, given he missed out on the opportunity to represent Australia at the World Cup four years ago.
“I’m going to enjoy it, I’m looking forward to the 10-year, 20-year reunions. I thought about that out there as well, I haven’t had much success in my career, missed out in 19’ in the World Cup, sort of that 12 months out, finding myself out of the team,” he said.
“I’ve been in the dressing room before when the guys from the 80’s coming through for reunions in the past and you see that bond. I see Jake Lehmann wear Boofers [Darren Lehmann] world cup ring still, so you see those little things and now being one of them with this group, we’re going to have some fun.”
Captain Cummins spoke glowingly of Head and the rest of his side after the World Cup triumph.
“Trav Head was phenomenal, a lot of credit should also go to Andrew McDonald and George Bailey to take a punt. With a broken hand for half of the tournament but keeping him in the squad was a huge risk and the medical team were fantastic to get him into a place where he could perform,” Cummins said.
“These are the moments you will remember for the rest of your life.”