Melbourne: Travis Head signalled his coming of age as a Test batsman by scoring a crucial century in Australia’s first innings of 467 before New Zealand lost two wickets late on the second day of the second Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Head made 114 and shared a vital 150-run partnership with skipper Tim Paine to tilt the game in Australia's favour and then its quick bowlers ousted opener Tom Blundell (15) and skipper Kane Williamson for nine to leave the visitors in a shaky position at 44-2 off 18 overs at stumps on Friday.
After scoring seven half-centuries, Head was able to shrug off the tag of being wasteful by converting a good start into a century, but not before Neil Wagner (4-83) had again bounced out Steve Smith (85) before lunch and trapped Paine lbw for 79 just after tea. It was Paine's highest score in his 18 Tests as captain.
Mitchell Starc fell for one in the following over, with Head on 99, still seeking the second Test century of his 16-match career.
The stylish left-hander settled his nerves as he calmly reached the milestone two balls later with a boundary to backward point. Head took off his helmet and raised both arms in triumph to the large appreciative crowd, likely putting to an end recent speculation over his place in the side.
“I had a good sense that I was playing (this match) so I didn’t read too much into it,” said Head, who scored 56 and 5 in the first Test against New Zealand in Perth earlier this month, but made the most of his opportunity in Melbourne.
“Over time you get a little bit more mature," he said. “Today, it was about making sure that I go on. Going on with it was nice.”
The batsman gave credit to Paine for his positive stroke-play in their 150-run partnership for the sixth wicket which swayed the momentum strongly towards the hosts.
“It helped that Tim came out and struck the ball as well as he did," Head said.
“Tim plays the hook shot and pull shot extremely well. It took a lot of pressure off me and the partnership was fantastic,” he added.
Head, who had many uncomfortable moments against New Zealand’s short-pitched bowling tactics, was caught at cover off Wagner’s bowling for 114 off 234 deliveries, including 12 boundaries, as Australia lost 5-33 chasing quick runs.
Australia had resumed Friday well-set at 257-4, but for the third consecutive innings this series, Smith couldn't manage a Wagner short ball and was out for 85, denying the star batsman the chance to become the first player to score a fifth consecutive Test century at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
After bowling 60 overs in the Perth test, claiming 4-92 and 3-59, Wagner again underscored his burgeoning reputation for persistence and athleticism with another four-wicket haul from 38 overs in Melbourne.
“One of my strengths is to run in and bowl long spells,” Wagner said after play on Friday. “We might not be the quickest on the radar but we are definitely some of the fittest bowlers going around and can back up, over after over, keep running in and really try our hardest. I’m pretty proud of our group that we just kept fighting,” the seamer said.
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Smith has faced accusations he had been trying to cheat by scuffing up batsman Rishabh Pant's guard at the crease during the tense drawn third Test at Sydney, which left the series locked at 1-1.
The 22-year-old, who made his debut in the drawn third Test at Sydney, cracking an impressive 62 in the first innings, dislocated his shoulder while fielding in the match.
Tim Paine apologised on Tuesday after launching an ugly tirade at India's Ravichandran Ashwin in the drawn Sydney Test, admitting he was "bitterly disappointed" in his own conduct.