The Isle of Wight could have double cause for celebration this summer. Not only will the county’s Newclose Ground host Hampshire’s First Division clash with Nottinghamshire in May, they will also be able to welcome one of their adopted sons as he arrives wearing the green and gold of Australia, first for the World Cup and then, in all likelihood, the Ashes, too.
Travis Head was just 18 when he disembarked at Heathrow as one of the original members of Hampshire’s International Academy intake in 2013. Within months, one of his Aussie team-mates would be striding out at Trent Bridge in the opening Test of the Ashes, with Ashton Agar making quite some impression with the bat in thrilling match that England eventually won by just 14 runs.
Head, meanwhile, combined his weeks at the Ageas Bowl with Saturday’s spent performing for Ventnor in the Southern League, making the kind of impression that endures long beyond a single summer.
The South Australian struck his first Test century against Sri Lanka in Canberra last week – combining his 161 with a more than handy 59 not out in the Aussies second innings. Those two knocks followed a similarly impressive 84 against the same opposition in Brisbane.
And although he didn’t score as heavily in Australia’s recent home defeat to India, he did still manage to average 33 against Virat Kohli’s side – which was far more than most of his colleagues managed.
Watching on from across the Solent were his former team-mates, along with Graeme Burnett, who was instrumental in bringing him to Ventnor in the first place. Although Head’s eventual destination had more to do with luck than design.
“We literally pulled his name out of the hat,” Burnett tells The Cricket Paper. “There were five names in there and five clubs who had put their names forward to take them on. We were fortunate enough to pull out Travis.
“We’re sponsored by Red Funnel so the travel was no problem for us as they paid for it all. It worked out perfectly.
“He gave us absolutely everything. He was only 18 but we were so impressed with the way he conducted himself and the way he interacted with the younger guys at the club. We keep an eye on all the players who come over here as overseas players and everyone couldn’t be happier at how things are working out for him. He was a terrific talent and there’s huge pride that we can say that he played for us, if only for one season.
“And we can’t wait to see him in action over here this summer.”
The banter is already flying between Head and his former Ventnor team-mates, with Ian Hilsum, who spent a large proportion of that Southern League summer admiring Head’s batting from the opposite end, recently congratulating the Aussie on his first Test century before adding a caveat.
“Use up all those runs before the Ashes matey,” he tweeted.
With David Warner and Steve Smith slated to return for the series against England, Head is one of the few members of the current Aussie top six who looks a shoo-in for a starting berth when the serious action gets underway in August.
His Test average of 51 puts him in rare company among that crop of aspiring batsmen and his knowledge and experience of playing on English pitches throughout that 2013 summer add another string to his bow.
If he does play then Hilsum – who played regularly for both Hampshire Second XI and Oxford MCCU in the early Noughties – believes he’s more than capable of having a major say in whether the Aussies retain or surrender the Ashes on English soil.
“He was a good player back then but the most important thing for him is that he has got better in the past five years,” says Hilsum, who was born on the Isle of Wight and played regularly for Ventnor before hanging up his pads a couple of seasons ago.
“He was class. Absolute class. We threw our hat into the ring for one of the International Academy guys because they were all very, very good players. You only had to see what Ashton Agar did that summer to see that.
“Travis was great, on and off the pitch. He wasn’t someone who went around giving it the ‘big I am’, he was very down to earth, just one of the boys, really. He blended excellently with the team and got involved in the social side as well.
“He was living in Southampton but he came over to the island probably eight or nine times that summer and he liked it over there. He would often stay on the island on a Saturday night so he could socialise with the boys and have a few beers after the game.”
Head’s schedule this summer will mean a trip across the Solent is unlikely. Regardless, though, he will always have his own special memories of playing at Ventnor’s fabled Steephill ground – the club’s home before they made the switch to Newclose.
“He played a T20 game there and it was carnage,” says Hilsum. “Unsurprisingly, given the boundaries are about 40 yards, he scored a hundred. Very quickly. There are probably cricket balls still being washed up on the north coast of France.”
England will hope he doesn’t dish out similar punishment this summer.
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