Travis Head's imminent return from injury has sparked concerns from Aussie legend Mark Taylor, who believes the balance of Australia's Cricket World Cup squad could be thrown out of whack. Head has not played in any of Australia's first four group games in India after breaking his hand before the tournament, but is pushing to return for the next game against the Netherlands on Wednesday night (AEDT).
The big-hitting opener had a second hit in the nets on Monday and Aussie coaching staff will see how he fares after another session on Tuesday, before making their call on whether he features against the Dutch in Delhi. Australia coach Andrew McDonald said on Monday he was "really optimistic" Head would be available, with signs promising since he touched down in India five-and-a-half weeks after suffering the injury in South Africa.
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"Across that session (on Saturday) he improved significantly. I think that is more just confidence in what he can and can't do," McDonald said. "It's been really impressive the way he has gone about his recovery.
"We said at the start of the tournament there would be some risk associated with carrying an injured player, and some people didn't think it would be possible. But he is on the ground now and it is possible, so that's really exciting for us."
Head's return will likely see him open alongside David Warner, with last-game centurion Mitch Marsh dropping down to No.3 and Steve Smith to No.4. The reshuffle would likely see Marnus Labuschagne become the unlucky man to drop out of the side - a scenario Taylor is a little concerned about.
"More than likely he'll make way, but we're leaving out someone like Labuschagne who's an out and out batter which if you look at the games we won leading into this tournament, Labuschagne played well," Taylor told Wide World of Sports. "Sometimes you need that in one-day cricket, if there's a bit of spin or seam, you need someone who can bat long, who can bat time."
The former Aussie skipper said he accepted that Australia's batting strategy is to "go hard" at the top of the order like Warner and Marsh did against Pakistan when they put on an Aussie record 259-run opening stand. Taylor warned the Aussies needed a contingency plan if their top order fails to fire.
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While Warner and Marsh's massive partnership took the pressure of the rest of the batters, the grim reality is the Aussie middle order only combined for another 49 runs, with Marcus Stoinis, while Glenn Ma xwell, Smith, Josh Inglis and Labuschagne all going cheaply. Taylor argued having someone like Labuschagne who can anchor the Aussie innings could prove crucial - particularly against heavyweights such as India.
"At the moment my fear for Australia is they want to go and go hard which is the way of cricket these days but you don't want to leave too much to do for your tail at the end of the game. I still think it's an easier game to play when one of your top four makes a score of a hundred or better.... We run into an India in a semi-final or someone like that, they're not going to give you a lot of freebies."
Head's return will undoubtedly provide a huge boost to the Aussie batting stocks, with the flashy opener averaging 50.60 across 25 innings at the top for Australia. Head will also give Australia an extra spinning option, with the 29-year-old having been able to work on his right-arm offbreaks given the fracture has been in his left hand.
The South Australian said over the weekend that he was happy to "to take things slow" and err on the side of caution by targeting Saturday's game against New Zealand for his comeback. However, the speed and ease with which Head is recovering from his hand injury leaves him "optimistic" the comeback could be earlier than originally expected.
"We'll see what happens. If it continues on this rate, who knows. Keep doing things day-by-day to hopefully give yourself the best chance," Head said ahead of the Netherlands game. "Catching hasn't been an issue so far.
"The progression over the next couple of days is to field and see where I'm at. I'll take it slow to make sure once I come back that I'm ready just to stay there."
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