Will Pucovski makes his Test debut against India at the SCG, opening the batting alongside the just-about-fit-enough David Warner, after overcoming the latest concussion of his young career. He has been tipped for international honours from almost before he played professional cricket but has had to cope with a number of challenges along the way.
January 2017: Professional debut
Having dominated the Under-19 Championships with a record-breaking tally of 650 runs at 162.50 on the back of run-scoring feats at school and club cricket, Pucovski made his List A debut for a Cricket Australia XI against the touring Pakistan team. He opened the batting for a side that also included Cameron Green and made 10 before falling to Hasan Ali.
February 2017: First-class debut
Less than a month later he was in the Victoria Sheffield Shield side, making 28 in the first innings against New South Wales before the next day, on his birthday, suffering a concussion when he was hit in the head while in the field.
October 2017: More concussion worries
Playing in a One-Day Cup match against Queensland he was hit by a short ball from Ben Cutting and forced to retire hurt. He did resume his innings but was soon dismissed and later diagnosed with delayed concussion. A month later, in a Futures League match, he was struck again and retired hurt.
February 2018: First milestone
Just over a year after his first-class debut, Pucovski made his first significant impact with his maiden first-class century when he struck 188 off 414 balls against Queensland in the Sheffield Shield. “It was pretty special, especially out on the G,” he said.
March 2018: Hit again
Two weeks later, Pucovski was subbed out of the Sheffield Shield match against New South Wales after being hit by a short ball from Sean Abbott. He did not play again that season.
October 2018: Doubling up
That first Sheffield Shield hundred was well and truly eclipsed at the start of the following summer when Pucovski made 243 against Western Australia in Perth. He became the ninth player to score a Shield double-century before his 21st birthday. However, a week later it was announced he was taking a break from the game for mental health reasons. He would later reveal how he had little recollection of the innings. “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… I was more confused than at any other time in my life,” he told Fox Cricket’s Follow-On podcast in January 2019.”I actually look back on it and don’t have much of a recollection on the innings, which is rare for me.” He returned a couple of months later making 67 in his comeback match.
January 2019: Test call-up
In the wake of the series loss to India, the Australia selectors made a number of changes to the batting line-up for the series against Sri Lanka and one of those was a maiden call-up for Pucovski. The batting contenders were then played together in a CA XI against the Sri Lankans in Hobart where Kurtis Patterson scored two centuries and, despite not being in the original squad, was handed a Test debut ahead of Pucovski. A few days later he was released from the squad to manage his mental health. “Will’s decision to speak up and continue to ask for assistance in managing his ongoing mental health is extremely positive,” CA doctor Richard Saw said. He returned to the Victoria side a couple of weeks later, scored an unbeaten 131 against Tasmania and helped his state to the Shield title.
July 2019: Australia A tour
He was part of the Australia A squad that toured England alongside the World Cup and Ashes squads in 2019, although he did not earn elevation to the Test squad. However, the tour did bring a maiden one-day century when he struck 137 against Gloucestershire.
November 2019: Mental health break
Pucovski started the 2019 season with a century against South Australia – albeit on a road at the Junction Oval – and added a half-century in the next match. He was then included in the Australia A side to face Pakistan in the pink-ball warm-up match in Perth. During that game he made himself unavailable for Test selection to manage his mental health. “Will’s decision not to nominate for Test selection was the right one in the circumstances and one that everyone in the Australian cricket family supports,” said Ben Oliver, CA’s head of national teams.
February 2020: Trip and fall
Pucovski had returned to action a couple of weeks later, making 82 in his comeback against New South Wales, but his season was halted in February by another concussion caused when he tripped and hit his head taking a run while playing for a CA XI, which he was captaining, against England Lions on the Gold Coast. He had not returned to playing before the pandemic hit.
October 2020: Double doubles
Part of the Victoria squad that was required to quarantine for two weeks in Adelaide before the Sheffield Shield, Pucovski began his season in breathtaking style with back-to-back double-centuries against South Australia and Western Australia. His first was part of a Shield record stand of 486 with Marcus Harris. At the age of 23, he had three double-centuries to his name.
December 2020: Another blow
In November, Pucovski was included in Australia’s Test squad to face India. “It’s been a long journey but I don’t think I could be in a much better place to take this challenge on,” he said. However, in the closing stages of the Australia A match against India at Drummoyne Oval he was struck on the helmet when he got into a tangle against a bouncer from Kartik Tyagi. He was diagnosed with concussion – his ninth – and was ruled out of contention for the first two Tests.
Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.