Victoria young gun Will Pucovski says he is in a "really good space" in terms of his mental health and is ready for a full year of professional cricket to push his international credentials after signing with the Melbourne Stars for the upcoming BBL season.
Pucovski, 22, came close to a Test debut against Sri Lanka in 2019 and was part of the Australia A set-up ahead of last year's Ashes series.
He was close again to Test selection last summer in the lead-up to the Pakistan series but withdrew from cricket for a short period due to mental health concerns, something he has done on several occasions over the last three seasons.
"I have no regrets over it," Pucovski said on Wednesday. "I didn't feel like I was quite ready at the time, but I've done a mountain of work in the last year to try and get myself that little bit further down the line. And I feel like I'm in a really good space which is awesome, just in everyday life and with my cricket.
"It's been an interesting year or two and it's probably hard for people to understand that aren't in the inner sanctum, but I'm very happy with where I'm at and most of the people that matter to me are very happy with where I'm at."
Pucovski will return to domestic cricket on Friday as Victoria face South Australia in their first Sheffield Shield game after being unable to participate in the first two rounds due to Covid-related quarantine.
Pucovski has made 1225 runs at 42.24 In 20 first-class matches, with a best of 243 against Western Australia and is ready to put himself back into Test calculations.
"I don't have much control over whether they pick me or not," Pucovski said. "I'm definitely very keen. It's been a dream of mine since I can remember basically. So from that perspective, I'm definitely very keen to put my best foot forward."
Mental health has become a critical issue for Australian cricketers in recent seasons with South Australia opener Jake Weatherald becoming the latest to step away from the game to focus on his well-being.
Pucovski was keen to dispel any suggestion that his issues were linked to the pressures of Test selection or even the game itself. "It's probably a bit speculative to suggest or say or just assume that it's just Test selection that might push you to some weird places," he said.
"There's obviously a lot of different things that have been going on that I've wanted to get under control and in that sense, I feel like I've done that from a holistic perspective. Having that sort of broader view of understanding who I am as a person and what I want to be doing and how I want to do it is probably the better way to look at it, and I can say I've made a lot of progress in that regard."
The Stars' coach David Hussey approached Pucovski about joining the squad and he jumped at the opportunity having previously opted out of attempting to play in the BBL. Pucovski has not played a professional T20 game and has only played five T20 matches for his club side Melbourne in the Victoria Super Slam.
"I think I was just sort of ready to take that next step with the T20 stuff," Pucovski said. "I've played a fair bit with Melbourne over the last couple of years and thought it was a good opportunity to get back into it especially with how this summer is panning out.
"Being around a professional environment the whole time was something that I thought would be really beneficial. I'd never ruled out playing T20 cricket, I just thought that across the last couple of years it probably wasn't the right time and now it sort of feels like it is the right time and I'm very excited to have signed on with the Stars."
He has also had to deal with multiple concussions during his short career - the most recent coming late last season against England Lions when he stumbled taking a run.
Having not played any cricket since February, Pucovski believes his concussion issues will not be a problem moving forward.
"It's been one of those things where I have had a few and obviously ideally you wouldn't want to get concussed," Pucovski said. "But I've been able to bounce back from them in the past so the way I'm looking at is that I've bounced back from them before then I'll continue bouncing back from them."
Alex Malcolm is a freelance writer based in Melbourne