With a flash of his bat, Head sends fragile England toppling again

For a game played for several hours over a number of days across a series of matches, things can change quickly in Test cricket.

Don’t England know it. It’s been their curse all series to know trouble is lurking around every corner, the unsinkable buoy of their own incompetence always bobbing just a wave away.

On an historic day in Hobart, its first playing host to a men’s Ashes match, England again displayed its unique ability to turn a position of even moderate control into a complete disaster in the blink of an eye.

Time and again in this series, Australia’s hasn’t so much had to get themselves out of jail but wait for England to forget to lock the cell door and casually stroll out.

It started in Brisbane, when England had Australia 6-236 and less than 100 in front in their first innings and let them escape to all out 425. Then in their second innings England collapsed from 2-223 to all out 297, and the Test was over.

In Adelaide the Australians fell to 4-55 in their second innings, and dug their way out to 9-230 declared.

And then there was Melbourne, either the nadir or the zenith depending on how you look at it.

You might not remember that England had Australia at 6-180 and still trailing just before tea on day two of that Test. Even when Australia was bowled out late in the day, the lead was less than 100 and the game was very much on.

Within 28 overs, four of which famously came from Scott Boland’s hand, it was rather conclusively off.

Travis Head came in at 3-12 but took the attack to England.(Getty: Robert Cianflone)

But this Hobart mess might hurt the most for Joe Root and his weary travellers.

When Australia slipped to 3-12 early on Friday afternoon, it was very much in keeping with the run of play. This was England taking conditions almost perfectly suited to them and using them in the manner of a professional and proficient cricket team.

Then, in an absolute red cordial sugar rush of an hour before dinner, the ascendancy was lost. By tea, it was gone and forgotten.

Credit of course belongs to Australia, who defied conventional wisdom and counter-attacked when faced with the most difficult questions they had been posed this series.

Marnus Labuschagne was the instigator, and played some remarkable shots in his brief stay. Unfortunately, nobody will ever remember any of them due to his farcical dismissal.

If you saw somebody get bowled like that in a video game, you’d trade it back in immediately. Who can say if it is a reflection or an indictment of the modern game that the number one Test batter in the world can be bowled while moonwalking onto his own face two feet outside his off stump.

Marnus Labuschagne falls as his stumps are broken by a pink cricket ball behind him
Marnus Labuschagne was spectacularly bowled by Stuart Broad for 44.(Getty Images: Steve Bell)

But regardless of how it ended, Labuschagne had already set the tone. And from that launching pad, Travis Head stole the show.

Head played a similar innings in Brisbane to take that Test away from England, but this was even more impressive. The fearlessness of his strokes was matched by their degree of difficulty, as he drove and cut and whipped the shellshocked English to every part of Bellerive.

He blitzed his way to a second century of the series then immediately terminated his own innings. He came and conquered and left again in a flash, England left only to rub their eyes in wonder at what had just happened to them.

Meanwhile, if their predicament was not yet bad enough, England had to watch as Australia’s next generational superstar made his most decisive steps yet towards his potential at the level.

Australia batter Travis Head punches the air while carrying his bat and helmet. Teammate Cameron Green is behind him.
Travis Head came to the crease at 3-12. He left at 5-204.(Getty: Matt Roberts/Cricket Australia)

Cameron Green fell short of his maiden Test century, but for the first time in his young career he showed a true version of himself with the bat. This was the commanding, technically secure and supremely confident Green that has been terrorising first-class cricket and inspiring such devotion from those who have seen him at his best.

He had England beaten when they resorted to their last-gasp tactic of good old-fashioned fast leg theory, but perhaps fell victim of his forgivable immaturity by walking directly into the trap.

Australia batter Usman Khawaja (right) walks off as England players congratulate Stuart Broad.
Usman Khawaja’s promotion to the top of the order was not quite as successful as his return to the team in Sydney.(Getty: Steve Bell)

And as the gentle drizzle fell to end the day’s play, there was a sense that Australia has already done enough in this innings.

The English outfielders hobbled after balls and collapsed upon them on the boundary. Many of them injured, the Australian batters picked off the weakest among them for teasing singles, and took extra runs on limp underarm throws from the boundary.

Just why this team has proven so fragile will be one for the post-series inquests, but on day one in Hobart, a gentle nudge was all it took for England to topple over yet again.

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