Australia v India: Will Pucovski’s journey to 62 on Test debut

Will Pucovski
Pucovski averages 54.50 from 23 first-class matches

Not often is the debut of a 22-year-old cricketer described as “a long time in the making”.

But Will Pucovski’s journey, culminating in 62 against India at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Thursday, has been anything but straightforward.

There have been whispers from down under about a long-haired right-hander with a classical style ever since his record-breaking performance at the Under-19 National Championships in 2016.

He scored 650 runs at 162.50, including four consecutive centuries, which eclipsed the efforts of former Australia captain Ricky Ponting and others who had come before him.

Pucovski’s first-class debut came less than a month later and a maiden first-class century followed in 2018 – 188 against Queensland for Victoria.

The following season he scored a double hundred in Australia’s four-day domestic competition, the Sheffield Shield, the first player since Ponting – and ninth in history – to do so before their 21st birthday.

The progression into the Baggy Green looked a mere certainty. The comparisons with Ponting and another former captain Michael Clarkeexternal-link were growing louder.

To outsiders, what followed was as unexpected as it was brave.

A week after his 243 against Western Australia, Pucovski announced he would take a break from the game for mental health reasons.

“I was more confused than at any other time in my life,” he later told Fox Cricket. He said he had little recollection of that marathon innings.

Pucovski, who appears to have spent some of his youth writing blogs about Manchester United,external-link returned and was rewarded with a first Test call-up three months later but still the road was not smooth.

He was overlooked for two Tests against Sri Lanka – opener Kurtis Patterson got the nod – and Pucovski withdrew from the squad, again to focus on his mental health.

He would rule himself out of selection to play Pakistan in 2019 for the same reasons.

By this time, concussions were alarmingly frequent too.

Pucovski has suffered nine concussions in his 22 years, a barely believable and worrying statistic.

The first came in an Australian Rules Football game as a teenager. The causes of the other eight include bouncers, a dive to complete a runexternal-link, a blow in the field and a door in his home.

Last year, Pucovski said his “brain has probably been through a bit more than your average 22-year-old’s” and as a result he has to do “a bit more rehab” to perform for Australia.

“I need to do probably more work than your Average Joe to make sure I’m mentally in a head space that can deal with all that stuff,” he told The Risk Equation podcastexternal-link.

But even a pandemic could not stop this Australian scoring runs. In October, in his first knock for nine months, he scored 255 not out for Victoria. He backed it up with 202 a week later.

There was time for one more false start – Pucovski was due to play in the first Test against India at Adelaide but his most recent concussion, suffered in a warm-up game, ruled him out – but finally it was his time.

Australia would finally witness a debut four years in the making.

So to the SCG.

Andrew McDonald, his first coach at Victoria, awarded Pucovski his Baggy Green before play.

His opening partner David Warner offered him the choice; face the first ball or ease his way in from the non-striker’s end?

“For the 12 hours preceding I was changing my mind every second minute,” Pucovski said at the close of play.

“I decided to get out there. The quicker I get the first one out of the way the better.”

As is with cricket, after all of the waiting, all of the twists and turns, Pucovski’s response to his first delivery on the biggest stage was to watch it sail by.

If you’ve waited this long…

India tested him with short balls – unsurprising given those concussions – and he needed slices of luck to survive. A top edge to a bouncer, fumbled by India wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant, was his second reprieve before making 40.

But as his innings went on he looked more and more assured.

He drove the India quicks down the ground on both sides of the wicket and reached fifty with a front-foot pull to four.

Even the most ardent of India, or England, fans would have found it hard not smile when Pucovski beamed and raised his bat having reached the landmark.

“It was an incredible feeling,” he said, speaking to ABC.

“It was probably the most fun I have ever had playing cricket. The noise and playing for your country is a special feeling.”

In the end, it was a surprise when he did fall for 62.

The right-hander tried to play a straight ball from fellow debutant Navdeep Saini too square across his pads and was trapped in front. International bowlers may well have already been alerted to that technical flaw.

Still, an impression had been made.

Ponting, whose run haul Pucovski beat at the start of this story, told Cricket Australia: “It’s a great start.

“He’ll be disappointed, no doubt, that he didn’t really cash in and make a big score. But at the same time I think he’ll be quite content knowing he’s got a game that can stand up at Test level.

“We’ll all keep our fingers crossed and hope that he stays fit and healthy because he could potentially be a 10 or 12-year player for Australia.”

Pucovski described it as “one of those days you think might never come”.

The wait seemed long but the mood was clear by the time the 25%-capacity SCG emptied. Australia think they’ve found another one…

BBC News