Australian Test great Allan Border has urged middle-order batter Travis Head to look to legendary opener Matthew Hayden for inspiration and develop a gameplan to be used in subcontinent conditions during his side’s tour to India, which will take place this year. This comes after the batter experienced some terrible outings in the Test series against Pakistan and Sri Lanka. His failures in the subcontinent sit in contrast with a dominant Ashes campaign last summer, in which he scored 357 runs and emerged as the ‘Player of the Series’. In his outings in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, he has scored only 91 runs at a poor average of 15.17 and the highest individual score of 26.
The Aussies are desperate to end their Test drought in India, having won only one series since 2004. In this context, Border opines that Head’s strategy should undergo revision to thrive in spinning conditions. The former skipper has a great record in Asia himself, having scored 1,799 runs at an average of 54.51, with six centuries scored across India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
“He has got to sit down and work out a method better than it is going at the moment, that is for sure. I have talked to him a little bit about batting on spinning wickets,” cricket.com.au quoted Border as saying.
“He has got to learn how to sweep, and sweep well. And he has got to use his feet – people do not seem to be prepared to go down the track, and defend even.”
“There are just a few subtle little things. He is a very good player against anything other than the turning ball. That is the chink he has got to work on, but it is (play the) sweep shot, use your feet, get on the front foot, and when you are trying to defend, use nice soft hands.”
“We are going to go to the subcontinent a lot so if he wants to be in the frame, he needs to learn how to play the turning ball.”
Hayden had a record-breaking campaign in India in 2001, in which he scored 549 runs at an average of 109.80. The sweep shot was his key weapon in subcontinent conditions. By the end of his career, he was able to gather 1,663 runs in Asia at an average of 50.39, behind Border and Ponting (1,889 at an average of 41.97).
“Hayden is a great example. You are talking about a kid who batted on the Gabba five games a year, then the WACA … Sydney (the SCG pitch) turned, that was the only place that really (gave you a chance to bat) against a spin bowler,” said Border.
“He just developed a fantastic sweep shot, and it is a hard shot, because if you do get it wrong and you get hit on the pad, with the DRS now … these days you get given out playing sweeps, whereas going back in time you did not necessarily get given out,” he added. HeadHead did score well in ODIs, making 70* on a turning pitch during the third ODI against Sri Lanka at Colombo, then conceded that he had erred in his plans after being dismissed for six runs at Galle in the first Test against the Lankans.
“I just made a mistake – trying to work the ball to midwicket on a full ball that is probably outside the line (of leg stump),” said Head. “It is amazing all the work you can do in the nets and feel good and prepare the best way and talk about it, but it is about going out and emulating that,” he added.
“So double down on those plans, watch(ing) how (his teammates) went about it, they did it really well for the Test.”
“I thought in general the way I eyed the ball up, the way my hands were working was good. It is just you make one mistake, and you sit in the sheds.”
“I have played well on spinning pitches in Australia. These are different – I have never played on a wicket like that – so another one to take into consideration … It is nice to know they might not get harder than that.”
During the second innings of the second SL test, he started experimenting with the sweep shot. Aussie head coach Andrew McDonald’s post-tour critique also contextualised his struggles at the No. 5 position.
“He is here for the first time. He has been exposed to conditions that are very foreign. We saw him add the sweep shot in during (the final) innings. He has been working incredibly hard on his game. Sometimes, you make one small error and you are not there to actually see if your method works or not,” said McDonald.
“There has definitely been a shift in his game in terms of how he wants to play in these conditions. So we are optimistic that across the journey if given more time, that can no doubt work,” he added.
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