Cricket

Watching Will is better than work

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HE IS probably the best young cricketer in the country but there weren’t many people on hand to see Will Pucovski prove it again. Chief Writer RON REED was:

IT WOULDN’T be entirely accurate to suggest there were the proverbial two men and a dog watching Victoria overpower Tasmania in the Sheffield Shield match at the Junction Oval on Thursday.

There were a few more than two although maybe not 102 and perhaps two women as well. But no sign of the dog. That’s because pooches aren’t allowed in, which seems a strange decision given the generous expanses of grassy viewing areas where they could happily sniff around or snooze in the sun.

My Aussie shepherd Atticus has never displayed the slightest interest in watching cricket on the box but he loves nothing better than trotting off to the local park to watch his human bro trying to recapture his long-lost youth in the subbies seconds.

Don’t mind a spot of that myself. But then I’ll watch just about any cricket, anywhere, any time – which is why slaving over a hot laptop on a book project and going stir-crazy at home didn’t have much appeal when I could be sitting in the sun at the impressive new headquarters of Victorian cricket getting a look at the domestic batsmen of the moment Marcus Harris and Nick Maddinson, and the next big thing Will Pucovski giving the Apple Islanders a bit of a seeing-to.

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And if not them … well, that’s the thing about the Sheffield Shield. There’s always – well, usually – something going on, someone with something to prove, or even someone who’s just worth watching for the sake of it. And if not, you can pretend you’re the dog and just go to sleep under a shady tree, now that you’re not in the concrete jungle of the G.

I arrived not long before lunch with astute timing, just before Victoria – batting for a second time with a first innings lead of 168, seeking to confirm top spot on the ladder – lost their first wicket, Travis Dean, which brought Pucovski to the crease. Having seen very little of him in the flesh before, this was precisely what I was hoping for.

The boy prodigy – well, he recently turned 21, which was once the definition of adulthood – was in an ambiguous situation. With the Vics so firmly in control, there was no great pressure in terms of the match dynamics, but the scoreboard did need to be kept ticking briskly.

With no recent form to speak of, 22 and 11 in the previous match and a duck in the first dig, he needed runs to keep alive his fading hopes of making the Ashes tour, something that seemed firmly in his grasp when he was selected in the squad for the Test series against Sri Lanka last month, only to be made to do work experience.

Performance anxiety is an affliction applicable to a range of batsmen, and bowlers, in all six Shield teams with every match until the end of the season having the potential to make or break the fortunes of this player or that one. It can lead to some interesting personal strategic decisions.

In the paper this day, for instance, this teasing  “whisper” appeared: “Which Ashes hopeful chucked a tantrum at his state coach when told to chase quick runs? It’s fair to say his response about needing runs to keep selectors happy didn’t go down well.”

I get annoyed at these cryptic snippets – newspapers are supposed to tell you stuff, not leave you guessing, especially when the facts are not defamatory. That said, here’s my  own guess – the batsman’s first name might have been six letters long starting with M and ending with S, and it wasn’t Harris. See if that narrows it down for you.

Anyway, it didn’t take long for this to start looking like my  lucky day as Pucovski waited only a couple of exploratory overs before unleashing a classic on-drive off pace bowler Gabe Bell for four, always the sign of a good player – a signature shot of Greg Chappell’s, for one.

Harris came and went for 44, replaced by Maddinson, and Pucovski took over the show, just as everyone was willing him to. Taking advantage of plenty of gaps in the field, he produced a range of classy shots to reach 50 in 67 balls, a strike rate of 75 or so, which is impressive.

A hundred was there for the taking – and it duly arrived, the third of his precocious career, which includes one double. He got there with a slightly nervous hoick through mid-wicket for four, not the safest shot of his knock  — which included just about the full gamut  — but the most enjoyable.

The “crowd,” such as it was – the demographic could probably be best described as retired codgers with nothing better to do, and yes present company no exception – would probably have given him a standing ovation except that some would have had trouble getting out of their seats with any alacrity.

But none would have regretted spending the day the way they did. Watching special young talent announce, or confirm, itself in any sport is one of life’s exquisite pleasures.

Pucovski finished with 131 not out off 160 balls at a strike rate of 81.88 as Victoria declared at 3-307, setting Tasmania the unfeasible task of chasing down 476 in three sessions plus 11 overs.

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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