Travis Head shrugged off accusations of wastefulness to convert a start into a century before Australia’s bowlers rammed home their advantage over New Zealand on day two at the MCG. Head turned his ninth score above 50 into his second Test century to help Australia to 467, before the Black Caps reached 44-2 at stumps.
Recalled paceman James Pattinson snared the key scalp of Black Caps captain Kane Williamson, who was caught after skying a pull shot on nine. Pat Cummins’ seven-over opening spell of 1-8 netted the wicket of new opener Tom Blundell (15), who was also caught behind by Tim Paine.
But the star on day two was Head with his knock of 114. With his spot in the side in question heading into the Boxing Day Test, the South Australian’s innings was possibly the most important of his career.
Lambasted by Ricky Ponting for being wasteful and told to pull his ego back when he let another big score slip in the series opener in Perth, there were no signs of concentration lapses in Melbourne.
Patient throughout, Head spent 49 minutes and 42 balls in the 90s before he brought up three figures by driving Tim Southee through backward point just after tea. The ton should go a long way to locking his spot down long term, after being axed for the last Test of the Ashes this year and having pressure mount this summer.
He moved his feet well and cut with great control throughout, as part of a 150-run stand with Paine for the sixth wicket that put Australia on top after Steve Smith was bounced out.
Paine’s up-tempo 79 should also end any questions over his short-term future, as he pulled powerfully and drove with precision. It was his highest Test score in nine years, before he was out lbw to Neil Wagner after a successful review by Williamson.
His innings also drove New Zealand’s bowlers into the ground, after they’d threatened to open the door back into the match when Smith copped a brute of a ball from Wagner (4-83). The Australia star got one that rose steeply at him from the left armer, Smith taking evasive action but the ball ricocheted off his bat handle and lobbed to gully. Henry Nicholls leapt to take an acrobatic catch, ending Smith’s bid to become the first player to score centuries in five straight MCG Test appearances.
Australia’s former captain had previously played the short ball well, limiting and controlling his pull shots while evading the majority of the bouncers headed his way. But Wagner’s delivery showed real life in an MCG pitch that has been accused of being too dead in recent years.
Southee also got just reward to finish with 3-103 as he cleaned up the tail, but the form of out-of-sorts spinner Mitchell Santner (0-82) is a concern for the Black Caps.