Marsh Sheffield Shield 2019-20
Patient Pucovski keeps eyes on the grand prize
Will Pucovski will look to back up his first-round Sheffield Shield century as the 21-year-old eyes another tilt at the Test team
16 October 2019, 05:51 PM AEST
It only took Will Pucovski two days to practice what he had been preaching. After he had been one of only four players to reach 30 in Australia's intense pre-Ashes practice match in Southampton in July, there had been talk of a possible place for him in the Test squad. It followed the talk that has followed Pucovski for a couple of years now – that he is the kind of generational talent for whom the regular rules don't apply; when they're as good as Pucovski, you find a way to get them in the Test side and worry about the rest later.
As we know now, Pucovski didn't make the Ashes squad, though hindsight presents a case for his inclusion. The Victorian right-hander was unperturbed about the whole thing ("I'm 21 – I've been through a bit and hopefully there's an Ashes tour or two in the journey to come"); if there has been a consistent theme in the way he deals with his public engagements, it is the unruffled exterior he offers, though we have also learned there is plenty more going on below that calm surface.
He spoke at the time about the invaluable experience the Australia A tour offered (asked during the Marsh Sheffield Shield opener what he had learned from the trip, he replied: "How long have you got?") and that, should he miss Ashes selection, he looked forward to returning home and readying himself to deliver in the Shield. He repeated the message just the other week.
"I was lucky enough to spend 80-85 balls out there in the second innings (of the Australia intra-squad match) and I found that pretty invaluable, against the best bowlers in Australia on a pretty tough wicket," he told cricket.com.au.
"Being out there in the middle and learning what it would be like at the next level, it's confidence-boosting coming back to Melbourne and getting stuck into the Shield.
"I've got four Shield games for Victoria before that (first Test) squad is picked. Obviously if you're in good form and putting your name up, that's all you can ask for and all you can control."
Pucovski promptly delivered on his own humble mutterings against the Redbacks on day two of the Shield season, adding another first-class hundred to the three he'd collected over the past two summers. On a flat wicket against an understrength South Australian attack, the inevitability of the 21-year-old's century was nonetheless striking. It also came only 48 hours after national selector Trevor Hohns, who watched every ball of Pucovski's knock at the Junction Oval, had indicated there were "two or three spots up for grabs" in Australia's Test batting order.
Ricky Ponting has already suggested Pucovski would be a shrewd inclusion for the Brisbane Test against Pakistan, while it is worth noting that the records of those two (and that of Steve Smith) after 15 first-class matches is remarkably comparable.
After 15 first-class matches
Will Pucovski | Runs: 1046 | Ave: 46.17 | 100s: 4 | 50s: 3 | HS: 243
Ricky Ponting | Runs: 1095 | Ave: 45.63 | 100s: 4 | 50s: 6 | HS: 125
Steve Smith | Runs: 1112 | Ave: 50.54 | 100s: 4 | 50s: 3 | HS: 177
Pucovski thinks he is better placed now than he was nine months ago, when he flirted with a debut after being called up to the squad to take on Sri Lanka.
"It was an experience I'm very glad I had, but in hindsight I'm kind of happy I didn't play then because I don't know if I was fully ready," he says. "I've had another few months of development and getting to know where I'm at, that's changed a bit, which is good.
"I got heaps out of (the Australia A tour). It was great to be around both the white- and red-ball stuff for the Aus A side and then into (the intra-squad match in) Southampton. That was great because all the Test boys that I haven't been around that much were all there.
"It was good to learn off them and see how they go about things and see what that dream or next level really looks like."
Pucovski wiggles his toes as he's waiting to receive the ball. It's a quirky tic in a technique that appears very much his own – his bat hangs in the air and his hips are squared towards mid-on, before a late shuffle puts him in motion as he reacts to the delivery.
He watched Smith go about his business from close quarters during that Australian intra-squad match in Southampton, and the upshot was interesting; instead of trying to manufacture a way to incorporate the technique of the world's best batsman into his own, Pucovski appreciated it for what it was and found another way to benefit from his new relationship.
"I played on the other team in that (intra-squad) game and I was watching him thinking, 'There's nothing I can take from your game that I can take to improve mine', because he's so unique with how he goes about things," he explains.
"But I had a few chats with him about how he goes about it mentally, and I found that really insightful and helpful. He's obviously quite eccentric with how he bats in a physical sense, but talking to him about the mental side and how he approaches it was very interesting and I got a lot out of that."
The mental side of the game – and of life – is something he has wrestled with regularly throughout his burgeoning career already, though now he feels better equipped to deal with the pressures that will inevitably arise should his current trajectory continue.
"I was pretty drained and it was probably best in terms of my preparation for the Shield season to get home and get things in order," he says of his Test series exit last summer. "It was nothing too out of the ordinary, I wouldn't think.
"I'm going well. I've got a lot of structures in place, which is really good. I can count on them when the time comes. It's an ongoing thing that I'm trying to improve as much as I can, as often as I can."
He is also self-aware enough to know that there is excitement and hype in the cricket world with regards to his future. Handling that with an even temperament remains a work in progress. Some days, he says, "Instagram and Twitter are my best friends, and other days I just hate them".
"I'm really looking forward to the summer ahead, which is good and probably a different view from 12 months ago. When you compare the two, you go, 'I'm in a pretty good place compared to where I was 12 months ago', which means I'm doing everything right in that field."
And so far, on the cricket field as well.