Daniel Brettig in Canberra
Australia’s vice-captain Travis Head raised his eyes to the heavens upon reaching his first Test century, and later spoke tearfully of how he had dedicated the innings to the late Phillip Hughes, his mentor and teammate until his death in 2014.
Head played a classic counter-attacking innings in the company of opener Joe Burns to turn a wobbly Australian start against Sri Lanka into a dominant day one of the inaugural Canberra Test match, as their stand of 308 led the hosts to a commanding 4 for 384 by the close.
In reaching three figures after several near-misses so far in his brief Test career, Head’s thoughts turned to Hughes, who had died after being struck by a short ball during a Sheffield Shield match at the SCG a little more than four years ago.
“Yeah [I dedicated it to] a few, but Hughesy as well, a little bit emotional to be honest,” Head told SEN Radio before breaking into tears. “It was a little bit about trying to get the momentum back, it was a little like last week where we lost quick wickets and were a little bit under the pump, it was trying to get that momentum back. Last week I started my innings really well, left the ball really well, just tried to get that momentum back and get it to swing back our way. I felt like Burnsy and I were able to do that again.
“To go out there and continue from last week, personally and as a team we put ourselves in a great position to get hundreds and weren’t able to, that was the disappointing part, but it was really good today to get out there, and once we got our chance, to make it massive.”
At the other end, Burns said the emotion in Head’s celebration was certainly moving, leaving him to feel that all he wanted to do was offer his team-mate a long, strong hug to mark the moment.
“It’s one of those innings today that’ll get him started in his Test career, get that first one out of the way and open the floodgates”
JOE BURNS ON TRAVIS HEAD
“He was very emotional for his first hundred, out in the middle you don’t ask how someone’s feeling [but] I was just over the moon for him,” Burns said. “To see a bloke, the hard work he’s done all summer and for a number of years playing against him, you knew how good a player he was.
“It’s one of those innings today that’ll get him started in his Test career, get that first one out of the way and open the floodgates. I just wanted to hug him as hard as I could for as long as I could and just keep batting with him. It was really enjoyable.
“Full credit to Trav, he comes out with great intent, puts the bowlers off their mark, and turns three early wickets into straightaway pressure back on the bowlers. And you could sense out there the left-hand/right-hand combination and being able to score in different areas and keep the scoreboard ticking all day meant their bowlers couldn’t get that build-up of pressure. That’s the key to a good partnership and really satisfying to do that for a long period.”
Burns had plenty of his own reasons for being emotional, a little more than two years after a strong start to his Test career had been blown off course by none other than Sri Lanka on a troubled 2016 tour.
Since then, he has appeared at times to struggle to win the favour of the selectors, not least when twice picked then dropped immediately, in Hobart in late 2016 and then after the Johannesburg Test immediately following the Newlands scandal.
“Look, it can be tough,” Burns admitted of how he had tried to process those episodes. “Two very different circumstances, both extreme the way they unfolded, but that’s not just cricket, that’s life sometimes, you can’t plan too far ahead, take the good with the bad. It makes days like today – when you get to kiss the badge on your helmet – bloody good, that’s for sure. It makes you really appreciate the good days because you never know when’s your last Test match or when you’re going to be out of the team.
“You can’t take anything for granted, just have a responsibility to play as hard as you can and as best you can and what will be will be. It’s just one of those times where you appreciate a good day. You’ve got to do that in this game because you have a hell of a lot of bad days as well, so appreciate the fact it’s a good day and we’re just eager to come back tomorrow and do it all again hopefully and make tomorrow an even better day.
“Coming into the day’s play, we knew the first hour was going to be pretty tough. Bit of grass on the wicket, bit of overheads, so despite losing the three wickets we knew we had to absorb that pressure they posed to us and we were also aware they were an inexperienced bowling attack that were going to present scoring opportunities if we could get through those tough periods. Last time I played Sri Lanka we got thumped, so I’ve got a hell of a lot of motivation to get out there and get a series win, that’s for sure.”
Perspective, too, had come from the team’s visit to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra two days out from the start of the match. “I had that sense of your country and how lucky we are to play cricket for Australia,” Burns said, “And how much you just want to make runs for the Australian people and get the chance to get to a hundred and have the crowd applaud you like that, there’s nothing better.”