Aussie scramble as Head tests positive to COVID-19
Usman Khawaja's memorable Test debut against England at the SCG came amid a backdrop of chaos, now disorder of a different kind has the veteran on the cusp of a long-awaited recall.
Khawaja replaced injured captain Ricky Ponting in 2011, scoring a stylish 37 that gave local fans hope of a bright future as England cantered to a series win that triggered much introspection at Cricket Australia (CA).
The left-hander's international career appeared over after being axed in the 2019 Ashes.
But Travis Head's COVID-19 diagnosis, resulting in further Ashes disruption and much anxiousness at CA ahead of the fourth Test that begins on January 5, has put Khawaja on the cusp of a call-up.
Australia's selectors drafted Mitch Marsh, Nic Maddinson and would-be debutant Josh Inglis into an enlarged squad on Friday, fearing further coronavirus cases could emerge in coming days.
Opener Marcus Harris has stayed behind in Melbourne as a precaution after he had dinner with Head on Wednesday. Assuming Harris doesn't test positive to COVID-19 in the coming days, he will rejoin his teammates in Sydney ahead of the fourth Test.
Chairman of selectors George Bailey and head coach Justin Langer may look to the future when settling on their XI. However, if that transpires then Khawaja would have every right to feel aggrieved given he has served as a reserve batsman in the squad throughout summer.
The potential for further positive cases among Australia's players, families and support staff looms large after everyone in the touring party underwent PCR and RAT tests on Friday morning.
CA is determined to press on with this summer's schedule as planned despite a backdrop of cases in both squads, and 21,151 cases of COVID-19 reported by NSW Health on New Year's Eve.
High-performance boss Ben Oliver is confident Langer's side will adapt as they pursue a 5-0 series win, having retained the urn in Melbourne after three resounding victories.
"Certainly the COVID situation is evolving pretty quickly at the moment and we're seeing rising cases across the country," Oliver said.
"Our medical team have done an outstanding job in helping us navigate that across the whole of the pandemic.
"We're monitoring that on a daily basis now and considering if there are any additional things that we need to look at."
Head, who was man of the match in the hosts' series-opening win at the Gabba, is asymptomatic but will spend seven days isolating in Melbourne with his partner. The South Australian should be available for the series finale in Hobart, which begins on January 14.
Australia and England were set to travel together to Sydney but a late change to arrangements meant they boarded separate charter flights. England's touring party reported no new COVID-19 cases on Friday, meaning their outbreak is still limited to three support staff and four family members.
Head coach Chris Silverwood did not make the trip to Sydney because he is isolating as a close contact. Match referee David Boon will be another omission for the SCG Test after testing positive for COVID-19.
"As part of our testing procedures, we are PCR testing players, their families and our support staff daily," a CA spokesperson said.