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Shock and awe all around at Head's hair-raising hundred

Head clubbed the fourth-fastest IPL century off 39 balls in a dazzling display that left teammates and opponents amazed

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
Virat Kohli had that look on his face, the one he had when Adil Rashid bowled him with a near-perfect legbreak. A mix of surprise, shock and appreciation. The only difference being that Kohli was fielding this time.
It was the fifth over of Sunrisers Hyderabad's innings. Yash Dayal bowled a slower ball, on a good length and just outside off stump. Travis Head moved towards the leg side, gave himself room, and smashed it straight to Kohli at extra cover. Such was the power behind the shot that it burst through Kohli's hands and raced to the boundary line, leaving him shell-shocked.
The shot also brought up Head's fifty, off just 20 balls. It was the second time in IPL 2024 that Head scored a half-century inside the powerplay. He went on to score 102 off 41 balls as SRH posted 287 for 3, the second-highest total in T20 cricket.
Before the match, most experts felt that the Chinnaswamy pitch was going to be two-paced. "Sometimes it looks like this but 240 feels like par," Pat Cummins, the SRH captain, said with a laugh at the toss.
He was only half-joking. In fact, 240 might have been a losing total as Royal Challengers Bengaluru posted 262 for 7 in reply. But Head's innings meant they were always behind the eight ball.
Throughout this season, SRH have tried to maximise the powerplay. One such attempt hauled them to 277 for 3 against Mumbai Indians in Hyderabad. Given the Chinnaswamy's reputation of being a high-scoring and chasing venue, Head and Abhishek Sharma had the licence to go even harder, if such a thing was even possible.
It took Head only three balls to realise that this was going to be his day. After defending Will Jacks' last ball of the opening over, Head dispatched a length ball from Reece Topley over midwicket for four. Topley went fuller next ball, only to be lofted for a straight six.
"I try not to think too much or too far ahead," Head said after the game. "But the second ball, which I whipped over midwicket, it felt like I was in a really stable position. And then the next ball I was able to get one back over the top to the sightscreen, which is where I try to target. Those probably were the two, in particular, when I knew I was moving well and seeing the ball well."
During his innings, Head hit nine fours and eight sixes, many of which landed deep into the stands. But it was not blind hitting. What stood out was the way he played with the field and took calculated risks.
After being hit for a four and a six off successive deliveries, Topley bowled the next one short around off stump. With no one at deep midwicket, Head went for the pull. Even though he did not middle it, there was enough to clear the 30-yard circle and pick up a couple of runs.
Two balls before his fifty, Head tried to smash a slower ball from Dayal down the ground. Once again he could not nail it but cleared mid-off easily for another two.
When he middled it, the ball invariably went to the boundary line. In the ninth over, Topley was bowling without a deep third and a deep point. Sensing an opportunity on the off side, Head backed away and used his wrists to manoeuvre the ball over the backward point fielder, who was a couple of yards inside the circle.
"Depending on the field positions they set, I try to sum up what the bowlers are trying to do," Head said. "In the powerplay with just two [fielders] out, I try to think about hitting the ball 360 [degrees] around the whole ground as you only have to go over the infield or through the infielders for boundaries.
"I was really pleased with the way I was able to move with the ball today. I worked on a few things over the last couple of days. In the last couple of games, I was slightly off it and the first risk I took. I did not execute the way I would have liked. But today, especially in the powerplay, the way I was able to strike the ball, I was pleased with the work I did."
When Abhishek Sharma fell on the first ball of the ninth over, SRH had 108 on the board. They promoted Heinrich Klaasen, arguably the best hitter in T20 cricket right now, to No. 3 but Head was looking so good that even he preferred to take a back seat.
"It was an unbelievable start from Heady," Klaasen, who himself scored 67 off 31, said. "When I came in, I had a little bit of time. I wanted to be sensible and knock it around and make sure Heady faced the majority of the balls. It is difficult to out-hit players like that. So when it's his night, make sure I'm on the other side and wait for a couple of bad balls."
At the post-match presentation, Head was asked how he would bowl to himself. "I am not sure," he replied. "I think everyone has tried a bit of everything. I just clear my front leg and slog a little bit. It's not the prettiest thing in the world, never has been. But pleased with how I moved today and how I struck the ball."
Head brought up his hundred off Vijaykumar Vyshak, with a ferocious punch wide of long-on. Coming off 39 balls, it was the fourth-fastest in the IPL. In celebration, Head removed his helmet, placed it on the handle of the bat and raised it high. Later, he revealed it was for SRH head coach Daniel Vettori.
"A couple of days ago, we were talking about celebrations and the ones that he did," Head said. "We've got a little running gag off the field in golf and different things with the cap. So that was one for Vettori. A little inside joke that one. Everyone was trying to work it out but I know he enjoyed it."

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo