The Australian selectors finally are on the right path after axing the Marsh brothers and recalling Joe Burns and Matt Renshaw for the Tests against Sri Lanka.
The shock pick of 20-year-old Will Pucovski also looks to be a good one.
Pucovski is the most naturally gifted young Australian batsman I’ve seen since a 20-year-old Steve Smith smashed 772 runs at 77 in the Sheffield Shield nine summers ago.
At 20 years old Pucovski has made an astonishing start to his Shield career, with 562 runs at 70 from his six matches for Victoria.
The first thing I noticed about Pucovski is the generous amount of time he appears to have to execute his shots.
Rarely does he look hurried. As much was clear from his last Shield innings when he came to the crease in the seventh over after Nic Maddinson had his arm broken by WA pace dynamo Jhye Richardson, who was in the middle of a fearsome spell.
One of Australia’s best red ball quicks, Richardson has been clocked at up to 149kmh and looked to be bowling consistently in the mid-140s during this spell.
Yet Pucovski looked at complete ease against him as he made 67. When he rocked back to pull Richardson, who has a skiddy short ball that rushes most batsmen, he hammered the shot well in front of square, an indication of just how early he was on the stroke.
Pucovski has all the shots but it is this back foot one which is most imperious. Even against genuinely sharp quicks like Richardson, when he plays the pull Pucovski is in position remarkably early. He waits for the ball and then hits down on the shot, rolling his wrists to minimise risk.
Pucovski’s execution of the pull shot is straight from the old MCC Coaching Manual. So is his entire technique, in fact. This is not an idiosyncratic batsman like Smith, Peter Handscomb or Travis Head.
Pucovski does not possess an extravagant backlift, an exaggerated trigger movement or a reliance on one particular scoring zone.
His technique is simple and traditional. Of course, that is no guarantee of success or Shaun Marsh would be Australia’s most prolific Test batsman.
The key differences between Marsh and Pucovski, from what I’ve seen, are that he plays with softer hands and is a far more confident starter.
The main area in which Pucovski becomes vulnerable is when he seeks to drive on the up. This over-confident shot is one few Test cricketers can manage to play with consistent success unless the pitch is a road or they are extremely well set.
The darker, more serious issue that must be addressed when considering Pucovski’s immediate prospects as a Test cricketer is his mental health.
Pucovski decided to take a seven-week break from cricket after piling up 243 in a Shield match against WA in October. He revealed in a podcast this week that he had become beset by mental anguish midway through that incredible innings
I am not an expert on this topic so I will not delve further into this issue other than to say that Pucovski and the Australian selectors clearly feel he is mentally prepared for Test cricket.
What I do feel confident of stating is that I believe, skill-wise, he is ready for Test cricket. Granted, he is very young and has just eight first-class matches to his name. But some cricketers are made for the top level and can quickly make the transition from underage to domestic to Test cricket.
Look at Indian prodigy Privthi Shaw, who would have opened the batting against Australia in the recent Tests if not for injury.
He is almost two years younger than Pucovski but already has a Test ton to his name. Renshaw was three months younger than Pucovski is now when he had a baptism of fire against South Africa’s rampant Test pace attack under lights at Adelaide.
He did not look out his depth and finished his debut Test summer with 315 runs at 63.
Age is just a number. Pucovski could scarcely get an easier time at which to debut. The Australian public’s expectations have never been lower, so feeble has been Australia’s Test batting over the past year. And against Sri Lanka he would face a bowling attack weaker than some he has encountered at Shield level.
Sri Lanka do not have a single Test bowler who is anywhere near being world class. As a comparison, India’s fifth-choice Test quick, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, is far superior to any of the Sri Lankan paceman.
Sri Lanka’s spearhead and most experienced bowler, Suranga Lakmal, has a Test bowling average of 41 from his 54 Tests. Meanwhile, their number one spinner Dilruwan Perera has a very poor record away from home and just averaged 80 with the ball in Sri Lanka’s last Test series in New Zealand.
With all due respect to Sri Lanka, their Test bowling attack is benign outside of Asian conditions. This all helps explain why now is not a bad moment to offer Pucovski his first look at Test cricket.
It certainly is a far more suitable juncture than in the series which preceded it, against India’s powerful attack, or the one which will follow it against England and the Dukes ball.
The time is right for Pucovski.