Out of favour Head hopeful of making the World Cup cut

Travis Head hasn’t given up on a potential spot in the World Cup squad despite finding himself sidelined from Australia’s white-ball plans for the moment. Speaking to Cricbuzz exclusively, the 25-year-old expressed his desire to play in “all three formats” and how that remains his main focus even though he has been left out of the ODI squad since the series against South Africa in November.

“There’s still a divide to whether I can potentially be in that (World Cup) team. For me, there’s no resting or stepping away from my main focus which is wanting to play all three formats for Australia. At the minute, the one-day team is presently playing a good brand of cricket but I’m close to that. I know what I’m improving in my game and what I’m getting better at, so I will continue to do that. If it comes to the World Cup, and I find myself in the one-day team, I know I can contribute,” Head told Cricbuzz on the sidelines of his return to grade cricket on Saturday, where he played for Tea Tree Gully Club against Northern Districts at the Petaringa Oval in Adelaide.

In an otherwise roller-coaster season of results at home, Head’s progress as a Test batsman was far and away the most significant positive for Australian cricket this summer. With 541 runs at 60.11, the left-hander amassed over 200 runs than and averaged nearly two times that of the next best-Marcus Harris with 327 at 32.70-and finished up being named the co-vice-captain of the Test team.

In 2018, what was a shocking year of results for Australia in ODI cricket where they won only 2 out of 13 matches, Head’s batting had stood out as one of the few optimistic takeaways. The South Australian had finished fourth in the run-getters’ list behind Aaron Finch, Shaun Marsh and Marcus Stoinis. But he won’t be among the 15 boarding the flight to India this week as the world champions begin their preparations for their World Cup title defense later this year.

In a schedule that coach Justin Langer described as “unprecedented”, Australia are bracing up for a monumental visit to England, starting May, with the World Cup being followed by the Ashes. And when asked whether Langer or any of the selectors had spoken to him about being more focused on his Ashes preparations, Head insisted that no such conversation had taken place.

“I have not spoken to them but I know what I have to do. There’s definitely no red-ball, white-ball focus for me. It’s about playing all three formats,” he insisted.

Interestingly at the start of 2018, Head had been touted by then captain Steve Smith as the man who’d bring Australia’s longstanding uncertainty over the No.4 spot in ODIs to an end. “He’s got a good cricket brain and we need someone who’s got some smarts there in the middle and play the right brand of cricket at the right time,” Smith had said before the five-match series against England at home. Head managed scores of 5 and 7 at that position in his first two knocks before being promoted to open in Adelaide, where he scored 96. He then continued to bat at the top of the order, including when Australia traveled to England, where he returned scores of 51, 63 and 56 respectively in the last three matches. He started off as opener at the start of the summer against South Africa, scoring 1 and 8, before dropping down to No.4 in Hobart, where he failed again with a 21-ball 6. And Head acknowledges the fact that it was the string of single-digit scores against the Proteas that cost him his ODI spot.

“I thought the guys played really well against India, and changed the way they went about it through that middle-order and hopefully they go to India and play really well too. Credit to them. I didn’t play well against South Africa and gave an opportunity to someone else. It’s disappointing from that aspect but again I’m in a good space, and I’m playing well and I know I can contribute if I get another opportunity. Just wait for that chance to come around,” he said.

Australia still have an ODI series against Pakistan in the UAE following their India visit, which technically would be the only chance for Head to make a comeback, considering that squad hasn’t been named yet. But unfortunately, there’s no limited-overs cricket left in the Australian domestic season for the left-hander to make an impact. Instead, Head’s focus will now shift to the four remaining Sheffield Shield games for South Australia, who he captains. As is the case at this point of the Shield season, all of those matches will be played with the Dukes ball, but he insists on not looking at them as a form of preparation for the challenges that lie ahead in England.

“Definitely not,” said Head, “I am not worried too much about England. I’m worried about the Shield games, and I’m worried about the first game. Very cliched but the Ashes is a long way away.”

Despite having established his credentials in Test cricket immensely over the last few months, Head is equally pragmatic and not looking too far ahead even in terms of having cemented his spot for the Ashes squad. Asked to compare how he felt about his place in the Test XI at the start of the summer to now, he said, “No different. I knew that India were going to be tough. I thought that if I could play well, and stay in the side, I’ll have an opportunity against Sri Lanka, and without ever thinking I was going to do what I was able to do. But again, about security over my spot, I’m not sure. There’s a long time before the next Test match, so anything can happen in the Australian cricket team. There are so many players vying for the spots, so I think it’s great to finish the summer the way I did but I want to make sure that I’m in form and getting runs come August for the Ashes series.”

Head is also looking forward to a “some time off” in April before a “possible ‘A’ tour” to England apart from as he puts it, “a World Cup, maybe, hopefully, in between”

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