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Match Analysis

Will Pucovski makes 'very special' debut count, the 'Australian way'

Playing only in his 24th first-class match, the 22-year-old showed impressive maturity and aggression

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
It felt like a moment the game had waited a long time for: Will Pucovski presented with the baggy green cap. In fact, it has been only four years since he made his first-class debut and three since his maiden century. This Test against India is his 24th first-class match.
Even from before he played for Victoria, it has felt a matter of when, not if, for Pucovski, although there have been plenty of obstacles put in his way. There have been nine concussions, the most recent of which was last month and delayed his debut by two Tests. He has taken multiple breaks away from the game to manage his mental health.
In normal circumstances, the morning of a Test debut is also one to savour of friends and family, but these are not normal times. Cameron Green was fortunate early in the series to have family in Adelaide, but the closed border between Victoria and New South Wales has prevented Pucovski's from being here. Andrew McDonald, Australia's assistant coach and Pucovski's first coach at Victoria, presented the cap.
"It was very special. We've been through a lot together," Pucovski said. "One of those moments where it was nice to share it with someone with someone I do have such a close connection with.
"I would have loved mum and dad and my girlfriend to be up here to celebrate with me and my mates, but they obviously couldn't make it with the Covid restrictions but other than that, obviously it was still a very, very special moment. I was a tiny bit sad, especially dad who has just been there the whole way and been a massive support to me. A bit disappointed that he couldn't make it up, but only give that one per cent. It was 99 percent elation."
And so, shortly before 10.30am, Pucovski walked out to the middle alongside David Warner with the task of reinvigorating Australia's batting after two Tests of struggle. He took first strike, his opening delivery in Test cricket from Jasprit Bumrah wide enough for him to watch go by, and comfortably saw out a maiden. Next over he was off the mark with a tuck to fine leg - no duck to start with, which has been the fate for three Australians in their first Test innings.
He soon lost Warner, edging a booming drive to slip, and his first boundary was a top-edge hook but well away from the field. The next stroke was a push straight off mid-on, summing up the simplicity and compact that is a hallmark of his shot selection.
Then came three hours to contemplate those early exchanges as steady drizzle cut into the day. Two balls into the resumption there was an appeal for lbw that looked reasonably close with Pucovski coming well across his crease from a leg-stump guard. The next delivery was an elegant push through mid-off.
For the next hour, he and Marnus Labuschagne steadily laid a foundation but things livened up in the period into tea. Pucovski's two clear-cut lives courtesy of Rishhab Pant - the thin edge off R Ashwin and gloved pull against Mohammed Siraj - were moments of fortune few outside of the India team would have begrudged him. A better piece of fielding by Bumrah might have seen him run out on 38 as well.
Pucovski started the final over of the session on 45 with fellow debutant Navdeep Saini finally given a bowl in the 31st over. The first delivery was short and wide, dispatched through the covers, and then he pulled a short delivery wide of mid-on to reach his half-century to an ovation from the socially distanced SCG crowd.
As he moved into the 60s early in the final session, thoughts were just turning to what might be. And then Saini pitched one up at the stumps which Pucovski tried to flick away but missed. It looked stone dead at first glance although the impact would prove to be umpire's call. It therefore wouldn't have wasted a review had Pucovski chosen to, but to his credit he was not talked into it.
He had also been involved in the first period of the series India lost control of the scoreboard, runs coming at over four-an-over, and in no little part down to Pucovski.
"On the back of a little bit of a momentum shift from Pucovski before the tea break, [Steve] Smith has come out and been ultra aggressive," Ricky Ponting said on Channel Seven. "This is much more like the Australian way to play. They had to get back and play the Australian way, which is to be aggressive, which is to put pressure back on the bowlers. I think they've done that for long periods of today."
The last three Australia openers to make a half-century on debut are Aaron Finch, Cameron Bancroft and Ed Cowan. Each, for a variety of reasons, have very interesting career stories. But there is no need to think ahead to where Pucovski's career might go despite the overriding view that he has what it takes to make it. This was a young man who has dealt with more in 23 years than some do in a lifetime to reach the pinnacle of the game. And for one day, that's what mattered.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo