Friday, 14 January 2022 14:58

Travis Head hits superb century as Australia counter-attack after England's dream start.

By Sam Drury.

Travis Head led the way with a superb counter-attacking century as Australia recovered from 12-3 on a gripping first day of the fifth Ashes Test in Hobart.

England had made a near-perfect start to the match after opting to bowl first with Ollie Robinson and Stuart Broad dismantling the hosts' top-order with the new pink ball as David Warner and Steve Smith both fell without scoring.

However, the home side rallied impressively with Marnus Labuschagne (44) and Head (101) beginning the fightback before the dinner break and Cameron Green (74) then joining the latter to continue charge in the middle session.

Head was dismissed after bringing up his fourth Test hundred and Green departed after tea with Australia having progressed to 241-6 when rain brought an enthralling day's play to a premature close.

England confirmed five changes to their XI from the draw in Sydney shortly before the toss, which was delayed by half an hour due to rain, with Sam Billings brought in to make his Test debut and Rory Burns, Ollie Pope, Chris Woakes and Robinson all returning.

When play began, England could not have asked for a better start as Broad and Robinson found prodigious movement off the seam with the new ball and had Australia reeling at 12-3 inside 10 overs.

The openers had battled through the first few overs before Warner prodded forward to Robinson and edged to Zak Crawley at second slip to depart for a 22-ball duck.

Robinson should have had Labuschagne in his next over, finding the edge again as the world No 1 Test batter, looking to get off the mark, advanced but this time Crawley shelled the catch as he dived in front of Joe Root, who would have had a regulation catch.

That was soon forgotten - at least for a time - as Broad drew Usman Khawaja, bumped up to the top of the order after his twin tons at the SCG to accommodate Head, forward and a located the edge with Root gobbling it up at first slip.

Five balls later, it got even better for the tourists as Robinson (2-24) squared up Smith and the ball flew off the shoulder of the bat to Crawley, who made no mistake this time.

Labuschagne and Head battled through to drinks and then exploded into life, a flurry of attacking shots with Mark Wood and Woakes unable to maintain the pressure applied by the opening duo as the lavish seam movement dissipated.

With the disciplined line and length of the early overs nowhere to be seen, Labuschagne and Head cashed in and took just 7.1 overs to bring up their fifty partnership with the Hobart pitch seemingly transformed from a minefield to a featherbed.

The second hour was dominated by the home side and memories of Crawley's earlier drop suddenly at the forefront of England minds as Labuschagne walked at Woakes, took the ball from outside off stump and whipped it over midwicket in a manner reminiscent of the great Sir Viv Richards.

All of which made the Australia No 3's dismissal all the more puzzling. Again, he moved down the pitch and inched towards the offside but this time Broad (2-48) fired the ball in full and straight, Labuschagne lost his footing and ended up sprawled on the deck as the ball cannoned into middle stump.

It was a much-needed breakthrough for England ahead of the dinner break but any thoughts of quickly running through Australia in the middle session were banished as Robinson struggled through the second over, his pace well down, before heading off the field.

England later confirmed the seamer had back spasms and he did not bowl again in the day, leaving the visitors with just fit three seamers available to them on an increasingly flat surface and Root himself was forced into action, his off-spin accounting for 10 of the 59.3 overs possible on day one.

With England shorthanded, there was no let-up from Australia with Head in ruthless form, punishing the bowlers anytime they erred in their line or length while Green soon joined him, putting his height to good use as he got forward to hammer the ball through the covers time and again.

With tea approaching, Head moved into the 90s and having got away with a leading edge that looped over Woakes but fell short of Robinson at mid-on, he brought up his second hundred of the series with a two guided past gully.

He was gone next ball though as he chipped Woakes (1-50) tamely to mid-on and this time the ball did go to hand, bringing a 121-run stand to an end. A relief for England at the end of a session that saw them concede 130 runs in 28 dispiriting overs.

The pain continued after tea with Green growing ever more confident, driving both brutally and elegantly through the covers to move to within sight of a maiden Test hundred, leading England to turn to the short-ball ploy.

It is a tactic England have tried at various times during the series with little success but on this occasion, it did the trick. Wood (1-79) troubled him with a couple of bouncers before going around the wicket, banging in another one that Green top-edged straight to Crawley at deep wicket on the hook.

The rain started to fall soon after and after initially trying to play on, the umpires took the players from the field and despite it amounting to little more than drizzle, it was enough to prevent any further play.

England must now try to overcome the potential loss of Robinson and hope Wood and Woakes prove less expensive as they try to wrap up the Australia innings on day two.