‘There are always going to be challenges’: Luckless Pucovski returns, stars push for Test call up

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Batting prodigy Will Pucovski will return for Victoria against NSW at the MCG on Thursday, with the drop-in pitch expected to provide an indication of what will be on offer on the Test stage come Boxing Day.

Pucovski, now 25, and cult hero paceman Scott Boland will rejoin the Victorian side, the former having opted to stay home and miss what was a loss to Queensland in Mackay, while the latter was rested as part of Cricket Australia’s management program.

Ready to roll: Will Pucovski will hope for a big score against NSW in a bid to push for a Test recall later in the summer.Credit: Getty Images

Victoria suffered defeats by an innings in each of their opening two Sheffield Shield matches, Pucovski having played in the first game in Perth, making 39 and a duck. In a summer when he could yet emerge as an option to replace the retiring David Warner in the Australian side, Victoria coach Chris Rogers hopes the luckless right-hander can have a smooth run over the next three home games.

“He’s back in and ready to go. There are always going to be a few challenges with Will,” Rogers said on Tuesday about the opener who’s had a long-running battle with mental health and concussion.

“He was really excited about going to Perth and then had a setback and needed to stay home and couldn’t go to Mackay. Hopefully he can get a bit of a run-on now as we have three games in Melbourne.”

Pucovski played his lone Test against India at the SCG in 2021.

Boland, 34, has been managed because fellow quicks Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood have a heavy workload through the World Cup, ahead of a busy home summer with Tests against Pakistan and the West Indies.

“There’s a fair bit of thought around what Scotty is going to be able to do for Australia and how much he is going to have to bowl throughout the Test series,” Rogers told SEN.

“We just have to manage around that. He’ll still play plenty for us.”

What should buoy Boland’s hopes is a chat Rogers had with MCG curator Matt Page. There is always a great focus on the drop-in pitches ahead of the marquee Test of the summer, but ground officials have worked assiduously to reinvigorate the decks and provide real pace and bounce in recent seasons.

“The interesting thing, they feel they are getting more pace back into the pitch, so they don’t have to leave so much grass on it,” Rogers said.

“We have seen at times, particularly when Scotty Boland got 6-7 there in that Boxing Day Test [against England], it was doing all sorts, but they are really happy with the pitch and pace of it. We expect something fast and bouncy, which is going to be exciting.”

Emerging batting bully Matt Short will have another chance to press for international red-ball selection – Rogers suggesting his name will soon be called because he can turn a game with his power hitting.

“The fact that he can play like that and put pressure on the bowlers really makes him stand out,” Rogers said.

Testing times: Scott Boland is back in the Victorian fold, while teammate Marcus Harris has work to do after twin failures against Queensland.Credit: Getty Images

Opening batsman Marcus Harris is in need of a big score if he is to remain in the race to replace Warner. Harris missed the opening Shield game to be at the birth of his first child, before returning from the clash with the Bulls with a duck and 10 – the left-hander having failed to counter the around-the-wicket attack from Mark Sketetee, an area he has struggled in at Test level so far.

“It hasn’t been great for him from that point of view,” Rogers said of Harris’ two innings.

“Hopefully, he will get a score and put his name back before the selectors.”

Young Victorian captain Will Sutherland has endured a rugged start to the season. Rogers said it had been a learning experience.

“It’s been a bit confronting for him, too, I think. He probably thought, I guess, he had a bit of the midas touch at the back end of last year. To come in and cop a couple of hidings, has been a reality check for him as well,” Rogers said.

“He is learning so much, he is absorbing this, he doesn’t want this to go on. It has been great learning for him.”

NSW will welcome back veteran Test spin star Nathan Lyon.

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