Kolkata: Will Pucovski, the 22-year-old Australian Open with his shaggy hair, had been a bit of an enigma in his country. While his two double-centuries for Victoria in the last Sheffield Shield made him a prospective candidate for a call-up against India, someone like former captain Allan Border was not impressed with his technique against the short ball as he had suffered a series of concussions after getting struck on the helmet.
There were mental issues rising out of concussion that had forced him to take time of from the game twice on the cusp of a Test selection - but eventually - it seemed worth the wait. He rode his luck but his 62 was the best return for an Australian opener in the series so far and helped his side into a strong position at 166 for two at the end of a rain-affected first day of the Sydney Test against India. The series is now poised at 1-1.
“It was a pretty incredible experience, it meant everything to be honest,” the debutant told reporters in a the virtual press conference.
“It’s been quite surreal, it’s been a rollercoaster. I feel like I’ve seen about a million doctors but I got through the protocols and I’m very happy to be here.” Looking compact and assured, he scored 14 in the first seven overs before the rain descended, resuming with the same composure four hours later when the skies cleared.
He looked less comfortable facing Ravichandran Ashwin and looked set for an exit on 26 when edged the India spinner behind only for wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant to drop the ball cold.
“The way Ashwin used the seam and his variations was something I hadn’t seen before,” he said.
Pucovski had added another six runs to his tally when he got another life, gloving the ball behind to give Pant a chance to redeem himself.
Although the wicketkeeper scurried back and leapt high to reach the ball, he was adjudged by the third umpire to have trapped it on the ground and Pucovski was recalled to the crease.
“I thought he’d claimed it so I thought he caught it, maybe I have too much faith in people,” Pucovski said, explaining why he had walked.
“It was pretty cool to be called back.” A mix-up with Labuschagne as the pair went for a third run when Pucovski was on 37 left the debutant stranded at the wrong end but the throw from the Indian fielder was poor and he survived to bat on.
Making the most of his reprieves, Pucovski slapped his fourth four to the onside just before the tea break to reach the half-century mark.
“I was just absolutely loving it, it was probably my favourite day of cricket yet,” he said.
Labuschagne was not out 67 while Steve Smith, who has struggled for runs this series, hit an attacking unbeaten 31. India’s debutant quickie Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj, in only his second Test, shared the wickets in a clash both sides are desperate to win.
After captain Tim Paine won the toss and chose to bat in front of 8,692 socially-distanced fans, just under the quarter of capacity allowed, the rain started falling 35 minutes into the opening session.
It was enough time for Siraj to grab the key wicket of Warner on his return from injury, caught by Cheteshwar Pujara to put Australia on the backfoot.
Australia (first innings)
D. Warner c Pujara b Siraj 5
W. Pucovski lbw b Saini 62
M. Labuschagne not out 67
S. Smith not out 31
Extras (nb1) 1
Total (two wickets, 55 overs) 166
To bat: Matthew Wade, Cameron Green, Tim Paine, Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood
Fall of wickets: 1-6 (Warner), 2-106 (Pucovski)
Bowling: Bumrah 14-3-30-0, Siraj 14-3-46-1, Ashwin 17-1-56-0, Saini 7-0-32-1, Jadeja 3-2-2-0
Umpires: Rod Tucker (AUS), Bruce Oxenford (AUS)
TV umpire: Paul Reiffel (AUS)
Match referee: David Boon (AUS)