Cricket has always been a game for number lovers and their interest is sure to be piqued by two of Australian Will Pucovski’s statistics.
Pucovski – a 20-year-old batsman who is line for his Test debut against Sri Lanka in Brisbane from Thursday with Australia ringing the changes following a recent defeat to India on home turf – has played just eight first-class games and suffered seven concussions.
The right-hander may be a novice in professional cricket, not that he looked that way when he became only the eighth player to score a double century in the Sheffield Shield before the age of 21 when he racked up 243 for Victoria against Western Australia at The WACA in October.
But he has become accustomed to painful blows, starting with when he was kneed in the head during Australian rules football practice in high school and was sidelined for six months.
The knocks to the head have kept coming for Pucovski, often in fairly bizarre ways – accidentally striking his skull on a door at home, hit by an errant ball from another batsman in an adjacent net, clattered on the side of the head in the field after diving to stop the ball.
Yet his knocks with the bat are what have alerted Australia’s selectors, with that 243 in Perth, plus a score of 188 against Queensland in the Sheffield Shield last season, propelling Pucovksi to a first-class average of 49.
Pucovski, born in the Melbourne suburb of Malvern to a Serbian father with Czech roots, demonstrated his considerable talents during Australia’s U19 National Championships in Adelaide in 2016.
The youngster notched 650 runs at the tournament to set a new record, reeling off four consecutive centuries in the process.
Pucovski has continued to hit hundreds at senior level but things did not pan out as expected after his mammoth double century for Victoria in the opening round of the 2018-19 Sheffield Shield.
As bowlers wondered how to get him out, the question was soon changed to when Pucovski would be back in after he took an indefinite break from cricket for treatment for a mental-health illness.
“It was one of those things where what it looked like from the outside wasn’t quite matching up with what it was on the inside,” Pucovski – who felt unwell on 63 overnight, yet went on to hit the seventh highest score at The WACA – told Cricket podcast The Follow-On.
“I was more confused than at any other time in my life.”
That sabbatical ended in early December when he returned to Victoria’s Sheffield Shield side for the return fixture against Western Australia – Pucovski made just one in the first innings but hit 67 in the second.
And with Australia’s top score in their 2-1 home Test series defeat to India just 79, compiled by Pucovski’s state team-mate Marcus Harris, the selectors had little hesitation in drafting the young batsman into the squad to face Sri Lanka. Talk about a whirlwind four months.
“I’m feeling really good, as good as I have felt in a really long time,” said Pucovski shortly after his Test call-up. “I’ve met some people along the way who have helped me turn things around. Having that team together makes me feel really supported and in a good space.”
Asked whether the pressure of donning a Baggy Green could dent his recovery, Pucovski, who explained that meditation has been one of his coping mechanisms, added: “It comes to mind but I don’t think so.
“I feel like I have done quite a bit of work over the past few months and was able to play that Shield game and loved every minute of it. I feel like I am back in action.
“My challenge if I do get picked is to try to bat the way I bat, prepare the way I prepare. If things work out, that’s great, but for a 20-year old, it’s just super exciting either way.
“It’s every kid’s dream – to think there’s a chance I could be playing for my country is just amazing. You can’t even use words to describe it.”
Pucovski’s first-class experience – or lack thereof – is a major talking point ahead of the Brisbane Test but Australia are not immune to picking them young if they believe they are good enough.
Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting and Don Bradman had all played a single-figure number of first-class games when they were selected.
And former Australia spinner Bryce McGain feels the Baggy Greens have someone special in their midst. McGain played just a solitary Test for his country. He expects Pucovski to play plenty more.
“I think he’s one of these once-in-a-generation type players, like a Ricky Ponting, like a Michael Clarke, that he will come in, bat at six, but then we might find him as the Australian No 3 and quite possibly down the track the Australian captain as well,” McGain told SEN Radio.
“He’ll be batting in the middle order for Australia – how exciting is that? A young debutant, 20-years-old, very capable and a great body of work of batting for long periods of time.”
If Pucovski lives up to that billing against Sri Lanka, he may well find himself included in Australia’s squad for their Ashes defence in England this summer, despite the impending returns of David Warner and Steve Smith, whose year-long bans for ball-tampering expire in late March.
The fourth Test takes place at Old Trafford so Pucovski may look to mosey on over to the football stadium of the same name, the home of his beloved Manchester United.
The batsman’s adoration of the Red Devils led to him penning blogs for Australian sport website The Roar on the club’s struggles since Sir Alex Ferguson’s exit as manager in 2013.
He will no doubt be enjoying how interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has re-energised Manchester United. Now Pucovski will be hoping to do the same to Australia’s batting line-up by producing some more notable numbers.
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