Greats divided over prodigy’s debut
EXPECTATIONS are growing that rising Victorian batting star Will Pucovski will be wearing a baggy green when the first Test against Pakistan begins at the Gabba on November 21.
It's an old-fashioned groundswell to get the best young batsman in the country in the team.
His selection in the Australia A "bat-off" tour game against Pakistan next month puts the 21-year-old squarely in the contender window.
Pucovski started the Sheffield Shield season with 123 in front of chairman of selectors Trevor Hohns and 67 at the WACA Ground with national coach Justin Langer in the stands.
"I really like the look of him," Langer said after that knock. "He has so much time."
Pucovski's hundred was his fourth at Shield level - in just 15 games.
He's done enough for Shane Warne and former selector Mark Waugh to say "lock him in".
"We used to pick the best young player going around … he deserves his selection,'' Warne said last week.
"Put him in at No.6 and he can work his way up."
But it's not a universal opinion, and the notion of rewarding talent without overwhelming performance remains a vexed issue in Australian cricket.
The approach hasn't worked wonders in recent years.
The opening two Shield rounds featured 33 players who have played one or more Tests since 2016. The turnstile is still spinning.
Matthew Renshaw was a Test debutant at 20, but was out of the team nine Tests later. Now 23, the Queensland opener is paddling at domestic level.
Nic Maddinson had just one first-class century when picked for the first of his three blink-and-you-missed them Tests in 2016. Only now, with Victoria, is he back in contention.
The situation isn't lost on those close to the Victorian team, all admirers of Pucovski.
They have witnessed his undoubted batting talent, which included a double century last summer, but have also seen him endure off-field issues, with several concussions and ongoing management of his mental health.
They are adamant Pucovski will have a healthy Test career. But there remains a wariness about picking him now.
"Once in a generation cricketers like Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Phil Hughes, who all started young … I don't put Will in that sort of category just yet," recently retired Victorian and Australian bowler John Hastings said.
"Taking everything into account, what he's had to go through and where he's at, I would love to see him play and enjoy his cricket this year, score 1000 runs, then, if everything is all well off the field, I'd get him in after that.
"Recently, in the Greg Chappell (selection) era, they've been looking too hard for the next Ricky Ponting or Shane Warne and it has put us back four or five years.
"If the youth are ready, and freak, once-in-a-generation talents, then maybe there is an argument to put them in.
"But if he doesn't get in and goes and smashes 700 runs in the back of the Shield season, he'll be in a better spot than if he nicks off in a Test match after three or four innings and that's it for a few years."
David Hussey, the Melbourne Stars coach who spent time as a batting coach with Victoria, holds a similar view.
"I envisage him playing Test cricket this summer and for many summers to come," Hussey said. "But I'm more with 'Hasto'; I'd like to see him dominate Shield cricket.
"We don't see people making 1000 runs in a year any more. Marcus Harris and Matthew Wade were the first two for a while. I'd like to see Will dominate for the first half of a Shield season and, if he does, then he deserves to play.
"He's a classy player and we know he's going to make it.
"But when they picked Ricky Ponting at 19, he'd made 750 runs in the Shield season; he deserved the right to play."
Pucovski has the Shield game against Tasmania and the Australia A match in Perth to cement his selection.
A "detailed dossier" is being compiled on all players being considered. Their performances, and physical and mental wellbeing, will be analysed.
Pucovski impressed everyone during his stint with the Australia A team in England in June. He has already been picked in a Test squad and was only a late decision away from playing in the Brisbane Test last summer.
Pucovski should and will play for Australia. When it happens is the big question.
DO WE PICK PUCK?
Age: 21 (turns 22 in February)
(first class record)
1128 runs @ 45.12
4 x 100s
- Best young talent in the country
- Knows how to make big scores, with three hundreds and a double for Victoria, plus four 50s
- Made 100 in England for Australia A in June
- Scored 649 Sheffield Shield runs last summer and has 189 in two games this season
- With no BBL contract will have to play club cricket if not picked
- Is only 21 and has only played 16 first class matches
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