Burns and Head help Australia avoid unwanted record
Entering the final Test match of the summer, Australia was within touching distance of an unwanted record. Not since 1882-83 had an Australian side gone through an entire summer of cricket – assuming at least three Tests were played – without having a single player score a century.
In a summer which had seen the home side lose a series to India on home soil for the first time, however, Australia was just two innings' away from achieving the 'feat'.
The summer has seen the batting lineup face a whole lot of scrutiny, and for good reason. Of course, it is worth pre-empting the criticism by mentioning the absence of Steve Smith and David Warner, their best two batsmen and two of the best batsmen in the world. Had they been playing throughout these two series', it's likely India would still have won – they were are are the far better side – but it's hard to imagine them both going through five matches without scoring a ton.
With them missing, however, the lineup has looked extremely thin. Numerous inexperienced batsmen have shown signs of talent but failed to go on to make scores – something which is typically synonymous with players playing above their level.
Marcus Harris has looked good when in, but has demonstrated an unfortunate habit of getting himself out in unnecessary ways, while fellow opener for much of the Indian series, Aaron Finch, failed to do anything to silence the critics who question his technique in the longest form of the game. Usman Khawaja, probably the most talented player in the current batting lineup, has had a summer to forget, while Shaun Marsh looked typically fluent while in but, also typically, failed to stay in for long on most occasions. Peter Handscomb struggled, Mitch Marsh struggled, and while Travis Head has arguably looked the best batsman in the team, he has failed to go on to make a big score.
Couple this fragile batting lineup with a very potent Indian bowling lineup, and it's easy to see why they struggled. Heading into the series against Sri Lanka, however, things seemed likely to be different. Sri Lanka are far from the side India is and their bowling lineup is a step, if not two below.
In the first Test, however, the trend continued. Again it was Head looking likely, but he was dismissed for 84. Marnus Labuschagne, who came into the team for the fourth Test against India and has looked reasonably sound since, also looked like a chance, but was dismissed for 81. And so the record remained a chance of being broken.
And, after Tim Paine finally won a toss and opted to bat, it seemed like it just might. The ball was hooping early, a relatively pedestrian Sri Lankan attack was looking dangerous, and within an hour Australia was reduced to 3/28. Enter Travis Head and Joe Burns.
After seeing off the new ball, the pitch flattened out, the true nature of the Sri Lankan attack became more evident, and Head and Burns started to score seemingly at will. More than 64 overs after they came together, Head was dismissed, but not before the two had put together a 308 run partnership and both had well and truly surpassed 100. Head was out for a well-deserved 161 off just 204 balls, while Burns remained not out at the end of the days play on 172.
Neither was a chanceless innings. Each of them was dropped at least once, chances that should have been taken, and on another day they could have both been back in the sheds for a double figure score. Alas, Sri Lanka missed their opportunities, and the Australian's capitalised.
With Australia already at 4/384 after a day's play, the first innings total is looming as a large one. Potentially – though it may be taking a step or two forward – this could be the last time Australia bats for the summer. With that in mind, Head and Burns saved them from this unwanted record in the nick of time.