Vodafone Test Series v India
Pucovski debut edges closer after getting the all clear
Victorian's dream of a Test debut a possibility this week after getting the tick of approval from an independent neurologist ahead of the SCG Test
5 January 2021, 05:54 PM AEST
Should Will Pucovski this week don the Baggy Green Cap that has long loomed as his destiny, he will wear it on to the SCG while clutching two certainties.
The first is that India's bowlers, fully aware of the 22-year-old's history of concussions having inflicted the most recent head blow upon him a month ago, will subject him to a surfeit of short-pitched fast bowling.
The second is that in his own mind - and to the comfort of his family and friends, teammates and supporters – he has never been better prepared to deal with whatever awaits.
Clinically, Pucovski has been reassured by his consultation yesterday with a neurologist he enlisted in addition to the specialist assessment received through Cricket Australia after being struck while batting against the Indians at Drummoyne Oval early last month.
The resulting concussion – the ninth of his sporting career to date – saw Pucovski ruled out of the first two Tests of the current Vodafone Series and heightened concern about the potential long-term effect of so many hits to the young man's head.
But the report he received yesterday helped quell many of those fears, as Australia men's team coach Justin Langer revealed in a media conference earlier today.
"Will saw an independent neurologist yesterday and he's seen a couple now, and the real heartening thing for him is that while he's had a few concussions in the past, and they're different, they've come in different ways," said Langer, who sustained multiple concussions during his 105-Test career.
"It's not necessarily going to have any long-term impact on him.
"I think if you can put your mind at rest with that, then that's a real positive for him.
"He's in a great frame of mind, he's incredibly positive about playing cricket, he's trained hard this week, and as he and I have discussed, the only way to get back on the horse is to get back on the horse.
"He's ultimately the one who's got to make the decision.
"Everyone will have a different opinion on it, but he's the one who's got to walk out there and face the short-pitched bowling."
Pucovski had previously acknowledged the fears that lingered about possible consequences later in life from sustaining multiple concussions in his adolescent and early adult years, and the credence he placed in expert medical assessment.
"A lot of medical advice has been suggesting that it can play a part in some other areas of your life," he said at a media conference last November, prior to his most recent concussion.
"Obviously getting hit in the head a lot isn’t ideal from a physical or mental perspective (and) it always helps to add reason to something, or to understand something a little bit better."
Technically, he's well-drilled on how to handle the battery of bouncers India's bowlers will hurl at him regardless of whether he bats at the top of Australia's batting line-up – a role that he's embraced with stunning success for Victoria this summer – or takes a place in the middle-order.
Langer has overseen an intensive training regime designed to ready Pucovski for what's in store from the time the right-hander re-joined Australia's Test squad in the aftermath of the team's eight-wicket loss at the MCG last week.
The coach initially took on the role of fiery fast bowler, using tennis balls and a racquet to aim a steady barrage at Pucovski's head as the batter ducked and defended through the onslaught.
Then Langer employed more traditional cricket training methods, armed with a 'wanger' (the plastic side-arm implement most often employed by walkers hurling balls for their dogs to fetch) but using a softer synthetic version of the leather-encased cricket ball.
Again Pucovski evaded and counter-attacked as needed, before the full ferocity of Australia's pace bowling stocks were summoned to the practice nets with the instruction to test out their uncapped squad mate with a bit of old-fashioned 'chin music'.
That match scenario was replicated at today's training session at the SCG, the team's main practice hit-out before the third Test gets underway on Thursday morning.
Sharing a net with potential opening partner David Warner and facing a bowler of Pat Cummins (the world's top-ranked Test quick), Michael Neser and fellow rookie Cameron Green, Pucovski copped his share of short stuff and was neither hurried nor harried by the examination.
"In the last three years every team he's played against has bowled a lot of short-pitched bowling to him," Langer said of Pucovski prior to today's session.
"He's practiced it, he's hit thousands of short balls and he got hit the other day (at Drummoyne).
"From experience, the only person who can decide whether you want to get back on the horse is the athlete.
"He’s going to have to deal with it if things happen, but that happens in the game of cricket.
"Obviously all the concussion protocols which we all know are incredibly strict these days, they’ve all been passed.
"There’s no reason why Will can’t be selected now."
Emotionally, Pucovski acknowledges he's now better equipped to take on the challenge of Test cricket – a step he's seemed destined to take since piling on four consecutive centuries at the national under-19 championships in 2016 – than the previous occasions he found himself in the frame.
A great sight for Aussie fans with David Warner and Will Pucovski batting in the MCG nets ahead of the third Test in Sydney #AUSvIND | @alintaenergy pic.twitter.com/P1JqQTL6Iw— cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) January 2, 2021
Two years ago, he was included in Australia's Test squad for the two-Test home series against Sri Lanka but, having been overlooked for the opening match, he withdrew from the squad and returned home to Melbourne on the cusp of his 21st birthday.
A summer later, Pucovski pulled out of an Australia A selection trial ahead of Tests against Pakistan and New Zealand because he felt he had become "lazy" with the mindfulness techniques and other rehabilitation measures he had embraced since mental health issues were identified in late 2018.
He recently claimed that decision to step away from cricket in November last year, and focus instead on his mental wellbeing, proved a turning point in the pursuit of his ambition to represent his country at cricket.
"I want to keep improving and I want to play for Australia, and I want to do it for a long time," Pucovski told the Risk Equation Podcast last year.
"But 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.
"My brain has probably been through a bit more than your average 22-year-old’s, so I’ve got to do a bit more rehab on that to make sure I give myself the best chance to succeed at that level one day.
"I see how far I’ve come and how much closer I am to being ready for that next level and I’m at a stage now where I feel I actually am, and truly believe I’d have the mental processes and capabilities to get there."
That dream has never been closer.
Vodafone Test Series v India 2020-21
Australia Test squad: Tim Paine (c), Sean Abbott, Pat Cummins, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Moises Henriques, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Michael Neser, James Pattinson, Will Pucovski, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, Mitchell Swepson, Matthew Wade, David Warner
India Test squad: Ajinkya Rahane (captain), Rohit Sharma (vice-captain), Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rishabh Pant (wk), Jasprit Bumrah, Navdeep Saini, Kuldeep Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja, R Ashwin, Mohammed Siraj, Shardul Thakur, T Natarajan
First Test: Australia won by eight wickets
Second Test: India won by eight wickets
Third Test: January 7-11, SCG, 10.30am AEDT
Fourth Test: January 15-19, Gabba, 11am AEDT