Alex Malcolm is an Associate Editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Will Pucovski has not been named in Victoria's squad for their opening Marsh Cup matches next week due a minor thumb fracture but there is cautious optimism that he could play a significant portion of the Sheffield Shield season, which begins on October 4, following a successful uninterrupted winter playing club cricket in England.
Pucovski suffered his thumb injury a month ago at the back end of his stint in England but he is on track to play in Victoria's Sheffield Shield opener against Western Australia in Perth.
Pucovski, 25, has not played a senior match for Victoria since his last Sheffield Shield appearance in October 2022 against Western Australia. Shortly after that match he took an indefinite leave of absence from cricket, having previously taken a number of similar breaks in his seven-year professional career, on top of multiple layoffs due to concussions and the long-term shoulder injury he suffered in his debut Test match against India.
Pucovski did return to play grade cricket in January 2023 and played six matches for his Victoria premier cricket club Melbourne. He also played one 2nd XI match for Victoria against Tasmania in March late last season.
But there is cause for optimism within Victoria's camp about his availability this summer after Pucovski spent the winter turning out for Weybridge Cricket Club in the Surrey Championship in England. He played 18 matches for Weybridge and scored 614 runs at 55.82, including a century and four half-centuries. More importantly, he managed to play 13 consecutive weekends of cricket without interruption, which is something he has scarcely managed to do in Australia for his club side Melbourne, let alone for Victoria.
There is hope he can play close to a full summer for Victoria in the Sheffield Shield, and potentially some Marsh Cup cricket, but it is understood that Australia's national selectors would like to see him play without interruption for at least one full domestic campaign, if not two, before he is considered to return to international cricket.
Since making his debut for Victoria in February 2017, Pucovski has not managed to play a full domestic season. The closest he has come was the 2019-20 season where he played the first half of the summer for Victoria, four List A and six Shield matches, before taking an indefinite break in December of that summer and not returning until the 2020-21 season.
A full domestic summer for Victoria includes ten Shield matches plus a final if they qualify, and eight Marsh Cup games plus a final. By way of comparison, Cameron Green, who is a year younger than Pucovski but debuted for WA in February 2017, has played 128 professional matches compared to Pucovski's 43 over the same period, despite missing the entire 2017-18 season due to a serious back injury.
Pucovski first took a break from professional cricket, unrelated to injury, following his first Shield double-century in October 2018 and then took another break after being called up to the Australia Test squad in February later that summer for a two-Test series against Sri Lanka. In November 2019, he made himself unavailable for Test selection after playing for Australia A.
In October 2021, he was concussed while batting in the nets. In February 2022, on return from that concussion, he suffered concussion-like symptoms in the warm-up during a Shield game against South Australia and required a break from playing but was later cleared of formal concussion from that incident.
After a relatively smooth pre-season last year, which included a trip to the MRF Academy in India for a training camp, he managed only two Marsh Cup games and two Shield games at the start of last summer before taking another break from the game.
Victoria have named a strong squad including Test spinner Todd Murphy who has recovered from a minor shoulder problem that forced him out of the Australia A series against New Zealand A earlier this month. Marcus Harris and Scott Boland have also been named with Peter Handscomb to captain Victoria's Marsh Cup team despite handing over the Shield captaincy reins to Will Sutherland. Nic Maddinson is unavailable as he continues to recover from the ACL injury he suffered last year.