When Will he be back?

19 May,2024 08:20 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Ian Chappell

Had Pucovski been healthy, he’d be ensconced as an Australia Test opener, but he’s only represented Australia once, against India in 2021

Victoria’s Will Pucovski during the Sheffield Shield match against Tasmania in Hobart recently; (right) Victoria’s Will Pucovski (left) walks off the field with medical staff after being struck by a bouncer from Riley Meredith during the Sheffield Shield match against Tasmania in Hobart recently. Pics/Getty Images

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Australian cricket has a serious Will Pucovski issue at the precise time they are desperate to unearth skilful openers challenging for a Test spot.

Pucovski is comfortably the most talented potential Australian opener but he's suffering a major health issue. Pucovski has endured an alarming number of concussions - many in the cricket arena - but his latest one raises an even more disturbing element.

In a Sheffield Shield match, Pucovski turned his head and ducked into a Riley Meredith short ball to collect his latest concussion. It was bad enough that the blow added to his double-digit concussion bouts but the method he employed displayed poor technique.

Still suffering symptoms

Even though weeks have elapsed since his latest concussion, he's still suffering symptoms. Recent disturbing news says he hasn't yet been cleared for inclusion in the Victorian contract list. His contract status now depends on a medical panel review which includes independent expertise. This follows Pucovski's withdrawal from a county stint with Leicestershire because of the latest blow sustained in the Sheffield Shield competition.

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There's no doubt his regular concussions are disturbing, but even more concerning is his mental health.

If Pucovski were healthy, he'd be ensconced as an Australian Test opener. However he's only represented Australia once, against India in a 2021 Test.

If he plays again, it would be an extremely audacious selector who chose Pucovski in the Test side. If he were prematurely included in a Test XI and then suffered another serious blow, the selectors would receive some of the blame. Consequently, there's a major dilemma involved in choosing a fragile player in the Test side.

Then, there's the matter of whether Pucovski would make himself available for Test selection. It's not just the health issue he has to conquer; his technique against the short ball is substandard and that problem needs to be resolved. Fixing what is a mountainous shortcoming will take a lot of hard work.

Not that you could blame them, but if he plays again, fast bowlers will bowl short at Pucovski because they know he has an issue with that delivery. No bowler aims to deliberately hurt a player but when they are performing for their living they have to give themselves the best chance of success.

Realistically, Pucovski should play a full season of Shield games without suffering concussion before he's considered for Test selection. If he were able to achieve that feat, it would be reasonable to assume he'd done the required hard work to reduce any danger he faces from bouncer issues.

Short ball problems have dogged Pucovski, but they are more relevant now that Australian opener David Warner has retired from Test cricket. Raising the stakes even further, another Australian opener, Usman Khawaja, is at the tail end of his career. The situation is complicated enough, but there's also a shortage of talented openers in the Shield competition and a healthy Pucovski would be the ideal candidate.

Of the current potential openers - Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris and Matthew Renshaw - the latter is the only player on the right side of thirty.

Smith far better at No. 4

Controversially, the selectors promoted Steve Smith, a substantial figure at No. 4, to open following his request to take on the task. Despite the move which accommodated two all-rounders in Cameron Green and Mitchell Marsh in the Australian Test XI, Smith is far better suited to No. 4.

Pucovski's absence also comes at a time when Australia are endowed with a strong bowling attack. Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood have formed a formidable pace triumvirate for a lengthy time and they are ably backed by the reliable Nathan Lyon.

This talented quartet ensure that Australia rarely chases large totals, but they won't play forever, so a stable opening partnership is imperative.

Pucovski's presence at the top of the order would've been an important element to Australia's future success. Now, instead of being a steady Test performer, the main consideration is ensuring Pucovski returns to good health.

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Ian Chappell columnists
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