Will Pucovski on his multiple concussions: 'It's been a reality check - there's so much more to life'

The Australia batter talks about how dealing with repeated trauma to the head has changed his outlook on life, his red-ball ambitions, and learning to not be defined by cricket alone

"It's about coming back to who you are as a person that matters. Cricket sort of comes second to that"  •  Paul Kane/Getty Images

"It's about coming back to who you are as a person that matters. Cricket sort of comes second to that"  •  Paul Kane/Getty Images

Though he was at one time thought of as being among Australia's most exciting young batting prospects Will Pucovski's career so far has been blighted by multiple concussions - 11 since 2018 - and injuries. In 2021 he made his Test debut for Australia against India at the SCG, only to sit out the rest of the series after dislocating his shoulder while diving in the field. Since then, he has played just three first-class matches. He was in Chennai, at the MRF Pace Foundation, for a ten-day training camp as part of a group of emerging batters and spinners, indicating that he firmly remains a part of Australia's future plans.
You've had a stop-start career, with multiple concussions at various stages…
It's not great. It's one of those things that I've got to deal with, and its ramifications, work through it and hopefully play some consistent cricket. It has been stop-start for me, but [it's about] sending yourself to play, to put all of your goals and ambitions to one side and make sure you're having fun while playing and working through all those issues.
It's been a bit of a reality check - that cricket isn't everything and there is so much more to life. For me, it's just been good to learn so much about myself as a person, [rather than] if I'd just had a breezy ride and walked into every team and did well. I definitely have no regrets or sadness because of anything that's happened. It's all a part of the journey to take me to where I am.
Is it a bit like getting the yips, in that getting hit makes you susceptible to getting hit again?
Yeah, there are definitely elements of that. The brain is sort of complicated, I guess. When you get a few bad ones [concussions], you probably freak out - [those are the] darker periods. I have a lot of processes in place, and a lot of awesome people around me to help me through that. Ideally you don't get hit that often, but that's part of the game. Sometimes it's just about dealing with it and taking it as it comes.
Has it changed your attitude towards playing, made you a more defensive player?
I don't think it has changed my batting style at all, just the way I see cricket. You go out thinking cricket is everything and you come back and think, "Well, actually I've got a pretty awesome family, a great girlfriend, I 've got the cutest dogs in the world at home, and there's more to it." It's not everything that something bad happens from time to time - like getting injured.
Even coming over here [to Chennai], driving around the streets has been a bit of a reality check. We are so lucky to be in Australia [but] I swear Indian people are so much happier than the people in Australia, even though a lot of people have a lot less than us, which just shows that if you shift your outlook, you [will be] grateful for what you have. Cricket is obviously a big part of my life, but it's not everything, or as much as it used to be. I'm lucky enough to be playing cricket as my job.
Have you made any modifications to the helmets you've been using?
(Laughs) No, I haven't actually. My skull hasn't cracked yet, so it's doing a good enough job.
Physical therapy aside, have you also sought help with the mental side of the concussion issues?
I have done a fair bit, to be honest. I got into a few breathwork programmes, which is part of playing normally anyway. I love doing mindfulness.
I have seen a variety of different specialists for how to do different things. I had one concussion guy in particular who is of massive help - symptoms that I've been dealing with for years without really noticing seemed to drift away when I worked with him. If I get hit in the head, I will go to him and I know he could help.
I've probably got three or four [coaches] in my team now. I've got a mind coach [Emma Murray] at home, who does mindfulness with me; she's been awesome for me as well.
A lot of it is self-driven and learning to deal with things and being able to switch off when you go home and sleep well, stuff like that.
Is it challenging to keep the fire burning with this kind of injury history?
Not really, it's just a management thing. It's human behaviour that someday you are going to wake up, thinking "Geez, wish I was somewhere else now" when days are so exciting [with lots of cricket being played]. But it's just how it works. For me, it's probably about accepting that more than anything: it's not going to be perfect every day, things aren't going to go exactly as you wanted them to. There's going to be tough times and there's going to be great times, and it's about coming back to who you are as a person that matters. Cricket sort of comes second to that.
Have your doctors told you about any long-term repercussions from your concussions that you have to be watchful for?
Not much, really. Just "Be careful when you get hit, take your time and make sure there's no rush." But they are all pretty content. I have done a lot of tests, everything's good. Doctors are generally quite conservative. So, if they are happy for me to keep doing what I want to do, then there's no stress for me. It doesn't really keep me up at night.
How important was the mental health break you took in 2019?
It was important. I got to meet different people along the way. It's all been a part of something remarkable. Hindsight is wonderful because at that time you don't know what's going to happen, but in the long run, things seem to work out pretty well.
Would you say you're in a better place mentally now?
Definitely. Everything that has happened might have been for the greater good. I look back and if I had played 20 Tests now, averaging 40, I probably wouldn't be in the same sort of position I am in now. You learn a lot about yourself when you try to do things your own way and make sure you get yourself right. There is nothing that really worries me. Feeling pretty good at the moment, which is nice.
Was your debut series, against India in 2021, a bittersweet one?
Maybe it looks bittersweet from the outside, but I am just proud and happy that I got to play for Australia. That's something that no one can ever take away from me, that I've played a Test match now. That first day when I was batting, after getting through the nerves, those ten-15 minutes felt like I was on cloud nine, it was so much fun. It just gives you a high, and I'd love to get back to it.
But yeah, the tour was bittersweet, obviously, getting injured. It's just one of those things that you can't help, with injuries. I am 24 years old and I have so much time. As I have said before, maybe it's all a part of the beginning of the journey. I am going to be more ready to play again, hopefully, when I get an opportunity at some stage.
You were seen as a prodigious talent. Did the burden of expectation put a lot of pressure on you?
I don't really care [about the pressure] to be honest. I can only control so much. What people say about me, positive and negative, are not important to me. I don't read much media, I am sort of off social media. I am only there to check if Manchester United have signed anyone (laughs).
I have always been quite a conservative batter, and I try to stay out there as long as possible. That has probably helped me get to where I am now. But I am a very big believer in "control what you can control". People are gonna judge you and say stuff, but [they] don't know the full story that's really going on with you. As long as friends and families are happy, I am pretty content with that.
Having played in the middle and the top order for Victoria, where do you see yourself batting in the long term?
I was batting at No. 3 [in domestic cricket]. It wasn't too much of a transition anyway. One of my strengths is probably that I can bat anywhere in the order. I don't want to pigeonhole myself anywhere, I will just bat where I am told to. Obviously [that's the] way things have worked out for my state team back home. When I played that Test match, that opening slot opened up, and it's great that I can do that, but that doesn't mean I'm permanently an opener.
Do you have any white-ball ambitions?
My passion has been for the long format. I have always loved the long grind, batting for hours. Fifty-over cricket - I find it exciting. My record isn't great, I'm probably going to have to improve on that. Hopefully I get opportunities with Victoria in white-ball games this year. We have some awesome white-ball players in Victoria. I wouldn't be surprised if there is not much of an opportunity for me, but if there is, I have got to do it.
In T20s I did a bit of commentary last year [in the BBL], but I am not signed with a Big Bash club this year. At that stage I thought I would like to be in the Test squad rather than maybe have a mini-break or do commentary for club cricket for a variety of reasons. It's probably what I think is the best for me, but that doesn't mean it's forever.

Srinidhi Ramanujam is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo