Aussies ready to face the chin music at Old Trafford
JOSH Hazlewood smiled after he nearly knocked Travis Head's head off.
It was one delivery in a searching net session on damp practice wickets at Old Trafford which left Head, the Australian vice-captain, thankful to escape "unscathed".
But it was also the perfect net session, with Pat Cummins steaming in from around the wicket, and James Pattinson fired up too, firing body shots at full speed, for all the Australian batsmen to prepare for what's to come.
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The amount of batsmen being hit on the head or body through the three Ashes Tests hasn't gone unnoticed by all players with fast, short-pitched bowling now a weapon for both sides.
Head has avoided any in-match blows, but said he too couldn't remember so many hits.
So facing the friendly fire from the Australian bowlers was necessary preparation for going out to face England speed demon Jofra Archer and company in the middle of Old Trafford this week.
"It's the perfect preparation going in to these games knowing you are facing it in the nets day in, day out. They don't hold back," he said.
"We said that after Jofra came at us with pace, and bounce. Come down and watch a net session, she's not pretty. We have three or four blokes who can do that, and we've seen it in the Tests.
"Hoff (Hazlewood) goes under the radar with how fast he can bowl, how tall he is. He almost knocked my head clean off. He was testing me out.
"That's what you want; short, sharp and come out unscathed, I'll be ready to go."
Head, who opened with a half-century at Edgbaston, and then held firm to force the draw at Lord's, said batsmen from both teams had worked out the short stuff would be coming their way.
But like his teammate Steve Smith, Head said it hadn't been much of a wicket-taking ball.
"I'm more conscious of my forward defence, and not getting out bowled or caught behind, there are so many more dismissals that can come from that length, so that's the one I am conscious about," he said.
"Then I just react to whatever comes, and if it's short-pitched bowling, it's a tactic, but it's part of the game."
Preparing for the short stuff came after dealing with the defeat at Headingley, which for Head included watching several balls sail over his head as Ben Stokes went berserk.
Head said it wasn't until he was brought in off the boundary, with scores tied, that he thought "Bugger", and the game was gone.
But after feeling "pretty flat" for a few days, his major takeaway was that Australia was in a winning position, and with two Tests to go, would be again.
"We just have to take it," he said.
"We know we have more in the tank. We are playing extremely well at the moment, but we just have to find that extra gear, that extra little bit to get over the line.
"If we find that over the next two weeks, it will take us to where we want to be."