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Opinion

Patience needed with young middle-order picks

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Expert
13th November, 2019
42

Faced with a choice between Travis Head and Will Pucovski for today’s Test squad announcement, Australian selectors should allow the preferred player something seldom afforded in modern cricket: time.

It’s clear the cricketing hierarchy see both Head and Pucovski, aged 25 and 21 respectively, as long-term prospects in the Test XI. One has already been afforded the vice-captaincy, while the other had one hand on a baggy green before his 21st birthday.

An extended chance in the Test side would only benefit both the selected player and team. While a five-test guarantee could be framed as dangerous policy lending itself to complacency, it’s more likely to ease the tensions both players face.

For Head, dropped before the last Test Australia played, the assurance that his next innings won’t be his last may free him up to rediscover the promise of last summer. For Pucovski, acutely aware of the next-big-thing tag he already sports, it would similarly ease the burden.

The reason selectors can grant an extended run in the side for their selected young pick is that, for one summer in a five-year stretch, Australia does not face a bluechip opponent on home soil.

For the previous two summers, England and India have toured their shores – without doubt the biggest two series for Australian cricket. For the next two summers, they’ll do so again. But with two shorter series this year against Pakistan and New Zealand, the pressure is comparatively off.

Now, if ever, is time to pick and stick.

This is not to dismiss the threat posed by Pakistan and New Zealand, both possessing players who at their peak could upset a summer Australia enter as warm favourites. But the home side’s bowling line-up, plus the return of Steve Smith and David Warner on familiar pitches, should be too strong.

Therefore, the promise of five Tests to either Head or Pucovski should be afforded, for the long-term development of the player and in turn, the benefit of the side.

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Will Pucovski

(AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

If selectors see the pair as a one-or-the-other option, omitting either for the entire summer does present questions. Head would be extremely unlucky to sit out the next few months in whites given his admirable efforts on debut against India last year, plus some handy Ashes contributions.

Conversely, further delaying Pucovski’s debut beyond this summer could see him picked in Australia’s more difficult next three series: Bangladesh (away), India (home) and South Africa (away).

Whatever the case, it’s clear either player can’t rest on the promise of what is to come.

“There’s so many opportunities for these young batsmen which weren’t the case 20 years ago,” Simon Katich said on SEN radio this week.

“There’s a huge amount of players that would’ve loved the opportunities some of these guys have had, but not grabbed yet.”

For Head and a number of other young players including Marcus Harris and Cameron Bancroft, these comments ring true. Again the South Australian went out in streaky fashion against Pakistan on Tuesday night, familiarly behind square on the offside. His scoring ability has never been questioned, but his temperament and hard hands have.

Head’s weakness is Pucovski’s strength, praised for his ability to remain at the crease for long periods. But his last five innings read 2, 0, 3, 7 and 5 – an ill-timed run of results. Nevertheless, both Mark Taylor and Dean Jones believe Pucovski should be picked ahead of his older compatriot.

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At 21, some will decry the need to rush. Others say he’s ripe for picking. Unfortunately, what’s clear is that neither jump off the page to fill the number five (or six) spot as it stands.

Both ooze talent, but questions remain. An extended run in the side will benefit both the individual and the Australian XI going forward and should be afforded to the player picked today.

Editor’s note: Since publishing this article, news has broken that Will Pucovski has withdrawn from Test selection to have a mental wellbeing break.