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Australian cricket has a Will Pucovski problem

The Victoria batter would have been the first choice as a Test opener but his continuing concussion issues have taken him out of the reckoning

Ian Chappell
Ian Chappell
Will Pucovski took a nasty blow on the helmet, Tasmania vs Victoria, Sheffield Shield, Hobart, March 3, 2024

Pucovski has continued to experience extended concussion symptoms after a blow to the helmet in early March  •  Getty Images

Australian cricket has a serious Will Pucovski issue at the precise time they are desperate to unearth skilful openers competing for a Test spot.
Pucovski is comfortably the most talented potential Australian opener but he's suffering a major health issue. He has endured an alarming number of concussions - many in the cricket arena - but his latest one raises an even more disturbing element.
In a Sheffield Shield match Pucovski turned his head and ducked into a Riley Meredith short ball to collect his latest concussion. It was bad enough that the blow added to his double-digit concussion bouts but the method he employed displayed poor technique.
Even though weeks have elapsed since his latest concussion he's still suffering symptoms. Recent disturbing news says he hasn't yet been cleared for inclusion in the Victorian contract list. His contract status now depends on a medical panel review which includes independent expertise. This follows Pucovski's withdrawal from a county stint with Leicestershire because of the latest blow sustained in the Sheffield Shield competition.
There's no doubt his regular concussions are disturbing but even more concerning is his mental health.
If Pucovski were healthy he'd be ensconced as an Australian Test opener. However he's only represented Australia once, against India in a 2021 Test.
If he plays again it would be an extremely audacious selector who chose Pucovski in the Test side. If he were prematurely included in a Test XI and then suffered another serious blow the selectors would receive some of the blame. Consequently there's a major dilemma involved in choosing a fragile player in the Test side.
Then there's the matter of whether Pucovski would make himself available for Test selection. It's not just the health issue he has to conquer; his technique against the short ball is sub-standard and that problem needs to be resolved. Fixing what is a mountainous shortcoming will take a lot of hard work.
Short-ball problems have dogged Pucovski but they are more relevant now Australian opener David Warner has retired from Test cricket. Raising the stakes even further, another Australian opener, Usman Khawaja, is at the tail end of his career
Not that you could blame them but if he plays again, fast bowlers will bowl short at Pucovski because they know he has an issue with that delivery. No bowler aims to deliberately hurt a player but when they are performing for their living they have to give themselves the best chance of success.
Realistically, Pucovski should play a full season of Shield games without suffering concussion before he's considered for Test selection. If he were able to achieve that feat it would be reasonable to assume he'd done the required hard work to reduce any danger he faces from bouncer issues.
Short-ball problems have dogged Pucovski but they are more relevant now Australian opener David Warner has retired from Test cricket. Raising the stakes even further, another Australian opener, Usman Khawaja, is at the tail end of his career. The situation is complicated enough but there's also a shortage of talented openers in the Shield competition and a healthy Pucovski would be the ideal candidate.
Of the current potential openers Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris and Matthew Renshaw, the latter is the only player on the right side of 30.
Controversially the selectors promoted Steve Smith, a substantial figure at No. 4, to open following his request to take on the task. Despite the move, which accommodated two allrounders in Cameron Green and Mitchell Marsh in the Australian Test XI, Smith is far better suited to No. 4.
Pucovski's absence also comes at a time when Australia are endowed with a strong bowling attack. Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood have formed a formidable pace triumvirate for a lengthy time and they are ably backed by the reliable Nathan Lyon.
This talented quartet ensures that Australia rarely chases large totals but they won't play forever, so a stable opening partnership is imperative.
Pucovski's presence at the top of the order would've been an important element to Australia's future success. Now, instead of being a steady Test performer, the main consideration is ensuring Pucovski returns to good health.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is a columnist