AHMEDABAD, India (AP) — His diving catch to remove Rohit Sharma quietened the heavily pro-Indian crowd.
His match-winning knock of 137 silenced them completely.
Sunday's Cricket World Cup final belonged to Travis Head, the modest, moustache-wearing Australian who started the tournament sidelined by a broken left hand and ended it getting hugged and slapped on the back by jubilant teammates as he walked off the field soaked in sweat following his player-of-the-match display in the 132,000-capacity Narendra Modi Stadium.
“To be able to do that on the biggest stage, in front of a full house, under all that pressure," Head said, “is something I’ll be able to look back on later in my life.”
He's compiling quite the list of star performances. Just in the last five months, he has been player of the match in the World Test Championship final (also against India), a World Cup semifinal and now in the final itself.
Sunday was the best of the lot, becoming only the third Australian — after Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist — to score a century in a 50-over World Cup final with a brave innings that started with two boundaries in the first over off Jasprit Bumrah and continued as the team felt the heat on 47-3, chasing 241 on a tough pitch.
He bided his time but never took a step back, picking his moment to seize the momentum. Like when he smashed Mohammed Shami for four on the pacer's first ball after his return to the attack; when he hit Bumrah for two fours at the start of his second spell; when he got down on one knee and slog-swept Kuldeep Yadav for six when runs were proving hard to come by.
There was some desperation when Head reached his century — he opted to take a single and could easily have been run out — but then he accelerated after getting to three figures and was on 15 fours and four sixes by the time he went for a match-clinching slog to the ropes.
Head was caught near the boundary on what proved to be the next-to-last ball and walked off slowly, taking in the muted applause from the crowd and then heading into a mass of Australian arms waiting to congratulate him for taking the team to the brink.
“He was really brave,” Australia captain Pat Cummins said. "He takes the game on, puts the pressure back on the bowlers.
“We couldn't be happier for Trav — he's a legend, we love him. How fun was he to watch.”
Moments later, Glenn Maxwell hit the winning two runs and Head was back on the field celebrating.
It was his stunning catch in the 10th over of the match that really marked a turning point.
Head was fielding at cover when Sharma, the India's skipper and tone-setter, went to launch Maxwell into the leg-side and sliced into the off-side. Head turned round, sprinted 15 meters and dived full length to pouch a catch that will go down in World Cup lore.
“He's probably the unluckiest man in the world,” Head said of Sharma. "It's something I worked hard on. But I couldn't imagine hitting a hundred and I couldn't imagine holding onto that one.
“It's good to hold onto something that’s important.”
Head could easily have not been at the World Cup after breaking a bone in his left hand in the fourth match of the warmup ODI series against South Africa, which Australia lost 3-2 from 2-0 up.
Scans confirmed Head did not require surgery and Australia's selectors decided to keep him in the squad. He missed the first five group games and returned against New Zealand, hitting a 94-ball 109.
Head was never on a losing team in the tournament, with his semifinal performance including hitting 62 and taking 2-21 off five overs including the key wicket of Heinrich Klaasen as South Africa was recovering from a tough start.
“The selectors backed him, even when he was with a broken hand,” Cummins said, “and the medical team got him back. It was a big risk that we took and it paid off.”
Head himself said he could have been watching the final while “sitting on the couch at home.”
“Very lucky that everything went well and I was able to get back here,” he said. “The support from the boys showed. I didn't think this could happen.”
Australian cricket now knows that with Head on the field, anything can happen.
AP cricket: https://apnews.com/hub/cricket