Tearful Head dedicates first Test century to the late Phillip Hughes

Stumps, day one: Australia 4-384 (J Burns 172no, T Head 161; V Fernando 3-99)

An emotional Travis Head dedicated his maiden Test ton to the late Phillip Hughes after he and Joe Burns turned Australia's century famine into a feast, and moved tantalisingly close to booking an Ashes berth.

Despite a poor return from the top order, Australia is in a commanding position in the second Test after Burns and Head tore apart Sri Lanka's inexperienced attack, crunching centuries to steer the home side away from what was looming as an embarrassing collapse.

Welcome to the club: Joe Burns congratulates Travis Head on making his first Test hundred.Credit:AAP

The duo still have much to prove in the Test arena but on Friday they joined greats such as Don Bradman, Bill Ponsford and Ricky Ponting with their 308-run stand, the 18th highest partnership by an Australian pair.

After slumping to 3-28, Australia reached 4-384 at stumps in Canberra with Burns batting through the day to be unbeaten on 172. Not since the summer against West Indies in 2016-17 has Australia posted such a big score on the first day.

Sri Lanka's bowlers were menacing in the first half-hour but, without the tools to extract any bite out of Manuka Oval's debut Test strip, were exposed once the ball lost its shine. They were not helped by some poor fielding with four chances going begging.

Head raised his bat and looked to the heavens in memory of Hughes as he celebrated his century, which has all but booked him a ticket England.

The 25-year-old was in the South Australian side the day Hughes was fatally struck by a bouncer in a Sheffield Shield game.

"I'm a little bit emotional, to be honest," Head said on SEN, fighting back tears.

Australian cricket has shown tremendous faith in Head, who has emerged as the pick of the debutants blooded since the ball-tampering crisis.

His century is the first by a South Australian since Jason Gillespie's famous knock against Bangladesh in 2006.

Burns must now at least be neck and neck with Marcus Harris for an opener's berth. The cards were admittedly in his favour here with Sri Lanka missing their three quicks from the first Test and fielding a debutant (Chamika Karunaratne), a third-gamer (Vishwa Fernando) and a seamer in his fourth Test (Kasun Rajitha). The track is tailor-made for batting, and he was given a life.

But he can do no more than dominate what is in front of him. Burns, dropped on 34, had to wait nearly three years between tons and is making this innings count.

His last two recalls to the team were for the humiliating defeat in Hobart in 2016 and the fourth Test in South Africa in the aftermath of the ball-tampering controversy.

"It can be tough. Two very difficult circumstances, both extreme the way they unfolded," Burns said.

"It makes days like today when you kiss the badge on your helmet bloody good. You never know when your last Test match is or when you will be out of the team. You can't take anything for granted."

Captain Tim Paine had said the dam wall would break once the century drought was broken – he was not far off.

Australia had to wait 113 days before Burns' broke the drought but an hour later Head joined him with his landmark milestone.

As bad a day as it was for Sri Lanka, they raised more questions over Australia's top order. Usman Khawaja's poor summer continued with another failure while a trend has emerged in Harris' modes of dismissal.

Just days after being warned by Test great Matthew Hayden to play straighter, Harris made just 11 before being caught at point, the fifth time he has been out trying to hit the ball square of the wicket in 10 innings.

Harris, Khawaja and Marnus Labuschagne all fell to the new ball, the first two guilty of poor strokes, and will be ruing not having the chance to cash in on such a docile deck.

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