Almost two years on from his first call-up to an Australian squad, Will Pucovski
has declared himself ready for a Test debut anywhere in the batting order and spoken of the mental process work he has done to be ever more capable of churning out big scores such as the consecutive Sheffield Shield double-hundreds that vaulted him back into the reckoning.
Back in January 2019, a wide-eyed Pucovski was not yet 21 years old when he joined the Australian Test side against Sri Lanka, and in between mental-health breaks
and a frustrating sequence of concussion issues
he has been on an exacting journey to return to the cusp of a baggy green.
Those challenges, which Pucovski has navigated in part through the help of the noted mind coach Emma Murray, were set aside when he was granted a promotion to open the batting by Victoria's new coach Chris Rogers and promptly responded by peeling off a pair of huge scores against South Australia and Western Australia in the Shield. Pucovski reckons that his mind will be much more focused on the job this time around, rather than being distracted by the bright lights that follow the Australian team around the country.
"It's been a long journey but I don't think I could be in a much better place to take this challenge on," Pucovski told SEN Radio.
"It's something I'm really excited for, and people have their different journeys and mine's taken a different path, but two years down the track from Sri Lanka when I was just about to turn 21, I feel like I've put in a mountain of work and that's been to achieve my goal of hopefully succeeding and playing for Australia. So, if the opportunity comes, I definitely think I'm ready.
"I feel like I'm in a much better place to take the opportunity if it presents itself now than I may have been a couple of years ago. I think I've just put the work in, to be honest, and I guess natural maturity. I was 20 a couple of years ago, I'm 22 now, I've played 15 or 20 more first-class games, I've put a stack of work in off the field to make sure my life and my cricket's in a really good place and probably the difference in feeling is more like you're excited but you're ready to do a job this time.
"Last time, not that I wasn't ready to do a job, but you were probably so filled with that sort of excitement of getting picked for Australia that I didn't think too much about the job at hand. This time around it feels like 'I've earned the right to be here' and I'm pretty pumped to take the challenge on, even if I don't play, just doing my bit around the squad to hopefully win a series for Australia."
As for where he may bat, given the coach Justin Langer and captain Tim Paine's evident contentment
with the combination of David Warner and Joe Burns, Pucovski said he had shown he can slot anywhere in the top six and apply his commitment to long innings with equal rigour.
"Most of the team have done very well over the last year or two, so it is a good thing for Australian cricket that there's so much depth in all areas of the team and maybe one advantage I do have is I am able to bat wherever is required," he said.
"The current top six are going pretty well, so it might just be one of those things where you just have to wait your turn, but as JL [Langer] suggested if I keep performing well, I'm only putting myself in the best possible position. It's one of those things where it's out of my control, and wherever the opportunity presents itself, if it does, I'll be ready to take it."
"Cricket's quite a mentally taxing game and you can get in your own head quite a bit with a lot of different things, whether it be technical or tactical or whatever you want to call it.
Asked about Murray, Pucovski said she had aided him in having the clarity he needed at vital times to perform as a batsman and a cricketer.
"It's been massive for me, she's helped me transform the way I look at things, which has been huge, both on and off the field. She came into my life a couple years ago and it's been a slow and steady process and there's been a lot of ups and downs, but if I look at myself two years ago as a complete person compared to where I'm at now, it tells quite a different story.
"So I'm very grateful for the work she's done with me and I hope that relationship continues over the journey, especially with cricket being quite a challenging sport, she's a great help in terms of getting me in the right headspace to go out and perform and do my best and execute my processes. I'm a massive Collingwood fan [in the AFL], but it is great to see Richmond have their success knowing that they're implementing a lot of the ideas that she teaches and really preaches. It's easy for me to see why they're so successful because of the work I've done with her."
The recent Shield games were a strong indicator that a couple of years of greater maturity, plus work on mental skills, have left Pucovski well placed to take the next step in the game. "I do a lot of work on my processes and making sure I'm in a place to be really clear with what I want to do," he said. "Cricket's quite a mentally taxing game and you can get in your own head quite a bit with a lot of different things, whether it be technical or tactical or whatever you want to call it. Just having that clear mind and 'this is how I'm going to go about it'.
"It's just that drive to keep going I think. I've always hated getting out really and from a mental point of view, if I look at it as in 'I'm just repeating a five-second process over and over again', then the time seems to pass a lot quicker. To a degree it seems like you're out there for a long time, but at the end of the day it hasn't felt like you've been out there all day, because all you've been doing is repeating a process over and over in your head and seeing what's going on. That's been the key I think, and easy to have faith in that when you have the results to back it up.
"I love the challenge of it, I love the idea of - dominating is the wrong word, because I don't see myself as a dominating player, but just grinding the opposition down and being really tough to get through and batting at the same tempo the whole time. I've had a few people suggest to me that it looks like whether I'm on zero of a hundred I'm batting the same and I get a bit of enjoyment out of that repeatability and being able to repeat that process time and time again."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig