SRI LANKA TOUR OF AUSTRALIA 2018-19
Will Pucovski received his maiden Test call-up for the upcoming series against Sri Lanka © Getty
“Your concentration was almost so maximised for that small period that you wouldn’t be fazed by anything else. In a way, I feel like it was bit of a cheat code. If I can find a way to do it consistently without what is going on, it could bode for some success.” It might sound like a batsman who’s talking about having found the perfect recipe to success. You actually wish Will Pucovski was describing some kind of batting epiphany. Unfortunately, this is him talking about the most traumatic experience of his young life. It’s from a podcast on foxsports Australia released on the day the 20-year-old received his maiden call-up to the Australian Test squad to face Sri Lanka. Ironically, it’s also partly Pucovski describing the most significant innings of his cricket career – 243 off 311 balls against Western Australia in Perth – which took him from being touted as a prodigy to a potential Test star. And what was going on was the most “confusing time” of the youngster’s life, when he’d suddenly realized that he was suffering from a mental health problem that he’d left undiagnosed for over a year. “What it looked like from the outside didn’t quite match up to what was going on inside,” as he puts it.
Unbeaten on 64 overnight, Pucovski called his parents that night and revealed his issue to them, struggled to sleep and told his coaches the next morning about what he was going through without actually being able to describe it exactly. The most amazing part of the story comes next as he scored 179 runs despite all that he was going through and even fielded for 25 overs before walking off the field. He then ended up taking a six-week break from cricket, during which time he received sessions from one of Australia’s leading “mind coaches”, Emma Murray, became a meditation convert and indulging in therapeutic walks with his two dogs, Harley and Hugo. He returned sooner than even he expected and scored 67 against the same opponents in December.
The Aussie selectors only needed to see that he’s ok. They’d after all already identified him as a future star over two seasons ago during his record-breaking exploits in the national under-19 championships. The young right-hander with the wavy mop had gone on to score four straight centuries and tally 650 runs at 162.50. It won him a deal with Kookaburra, making him the youngest to be brought on board since Ricky Ponting. His double-century in Perth, meanwhile, made him only the ninth Australian, which includes the likes of Don Bradman, Ponting and Steve Waugh, to reach the milestone in the Sheffield Shield before turning 21.
Perhaps Trevor Hohns & Co wouldn’t have thought then that they would have to send Pucoskvi, still only 8 first-class matches old, an SOS call as early as they have had to. But such has been the collective failure of their incumbent batting line-up against India.
Those who saw Pucovski before he became a national obsession though aren’t a bit surprised. The regulars at Caulfield Cricket Club – located some 12 km from the Melbourne CBD – had seen the star in him long before the rest of Australia took notice. He would go on to impress and earn his grade for many more teams and clubs across Melbourne. But Caulfield will always hold bragging rights when it comes to where the Pucovski journey began.
Jan Pucovski, a Serbian immigrant who moved here from erstwhile Czechoslovakia in his early years, took the new-ball for Caulfield through the 1990s and gained “legend” status while at it. He ended up with over 230 wickets, won three premierships for his club and was understandably granted life membership. Club coach Shaun Richardson joined the club in 2001, and unfortunately missed out on witnessing the senior Pucovski’s exploits first-hand.
“I came along around the time Jan had finished. But I was around to see Will take his first strides. And the first time I saw him bat in the nets as a 13-14 year-old, I was like ah geez this kid is special. He was just so technically correct and just loved to bat,” Richardson tells Cricbuzz.
He recalls, in particular, one season when the turf pitches around the area were slightly up and down and how a 14-year-old Pucovski tackled bowlers double his age and size with consummate ease.
“There was this big fast bowler from Trinidad, who’d played T20s for his country before moving here. He could be really quick if he wanted to, and he was at full tilt to Will. But the boy was so comfortable. The greatest trait I saw in his batting was when he was on strike, it always looked like the ball was coming 5 km slow at him as compared to the others,” adds Richardson.
In the past, he’s also described Pucovski as a “senior player in a kid’s body”. His time on the ball and an almost inimitable maturity have always been traits that have turned heads, and he’s won praise from very high-profile sources for a major part of his career. He is indifferent in many ways. So mature that, he even helps out a kid suffering from ADHD at Hampton Primary School, where he’s an alumni. So not stuck in a cricketing bubble that, he contributes columns on English football for a leading sports opinion portal.
It hasn’t always been a smooth ride though. It’s been riddled with bumps, and quite literally so. Few boys, forget cricketers, his age would have suffered the number of concussions that Pucovski has already. It’s a total of seven and they range from being hit on by cricket balls, to ramming his head into a door, to being hit by a stray ball during practice to coming in hard contact with a teammate’s knee during football practice which made him miss six months of school. He was then felled by a bouncer from Sean Abbott last season.
Quite amazingly, he has a “concussion buddy” too to boot, childhood friend and Victoria wicketkeeper, Sam Harper. The 22-year-old has thankfully recovered from a deadly blow he’d received to the head while keeping up to the stumps during a Shield match when Jake Lehmann accidentally smashed his bat into his head while attempting a shot down the legside. The youngster was in hospital for nearly two months, where he endured some scary and painful moments before luckily returning to action. The Harper-Pucovski connection dates back to the 1990s again when their fathers were the key-men responsible for Caulfield’s dominance in district cricket. The kids have followed suit, though at a slightly higher level.
The spate of concussions that Pucovski, who made his debut for Victoria before turning 19, suffered eventually led to headaches that affected his tour of England with the under-19 national team drastically. Whether they have a role to play in the mental health-related problems that engulfed him in October is not clear. Pucovski for one doesn’t think so. For now, he’s just happy to have returned to doing what he loves the most.
“I’m feeling really good, as good as I have felt in a really long time. I feel like I’m in a really good space and the people I’m working with think so as well,” is how he summed up his present state on Wednesday.
When asked whether he thought he could ever be completely “cured” on the podcast, the youngster had responded with the kind of pragmatism that those around him have come to expect. “I don’t know if there is such a thing as a cure. I don’t see myself as sick or ill… just going through something that a lot of people go through,” is what he’d said. Interesting that, considering it’s seeking a cure for their batting woes that the Australian selectors have turned to him prematurely. And with whatever was going on with Pucovski three months ago thankfully behind him, Australian cricket wouldn’t mind if he could somehow find that “cheat code” again.