Justin Langer: Will Pucovski won’t play in front of Matthew Wade or Travis Head
Australia’s coach Justin Langer has sharpened focus on a looming duel between Joe Burns and Will Pucovski for an opening spot in the Test team, declaring that Pucovski will not be considered to start the series against India ahead of Travis Head or Matthew Wade in the middle order.
While Pucovski has put his hand up to bat anywhere in the order, having only opened in two matches for Victoria, Langer could not have been clearer in terms of the scenario facing the selectors: Burns is clearly the batsman most likely to be facing pressure for his spot over the three weeks between now and the first ball of the Test series.
“He won’t play in front of Matthew Wade or Travis Head,” Langer said. “But what I am saying – philosophically – and in the bigger picture, everyone who bats in the top three in Shield cricket can bat anywhere. And let’s be really clear about Will – one thing I’ve learned and I’ve joked about it. The first six or eight months in the job I didn’t joke about it, because it stressed me out so much.
“But as an Australian selector, my starting point is you can’t win. You literally can’t win. That’s ok, I’m at peace with that. If we pick Will Pucovski and don’t pick Joe Burns then the Queenslanders will think we’re wrong and the Vics will think we’re right – and half of Australia will think we’re right and half will think we’re wrong. And if we pick Will Pucovski and don’t pick Matthew Wade, Travis Head, Steve Smith or David Warner – so that’s the starting point. I’m at peace with that. We think very, very highly of Will.
“We picked him as a 19-year-old, picked him as a 20-year-old, now we’re picking him as a 21-year-old (22), so he’s got enormous talent. All part of his journey and now he’s – when the opportunity comes – ready to play Test cricket. So I’m really confident by the time the first ball comes down in a few weeks – there’s a couple of Australia A games coming up – it’ll become really clear who is playing, who the top six batters are. But he’s a gun player, he’s knocking hard and the opportunity hopefully will come for him at some point, whether it’s in this series or a series to come.”
More broadly, Langer had indicated a willingness to choose top-order players anywhere down to No. 6, an initial role taken on by many players who went on to become top-line batsmen for Australia, not least the likes of Ricky Ponting and Mark Waugh.
“For Will it’s about where the opportunities come,” Langer said. “My view, not just as the Australian coach but for the last 30 years I think, it’ been drummed into me if you can bat top three in Shield cricket you can bat anywhere in the order. It’s a bit different if you’re more specifically a five or six in Shield cricket because that’s where you’ve got to bat in Test cricket. If you bat in the top three scoring hundreds you can literally bat anywhere in the order.
“That’s where someone like Will, who’s opening the batting for Victoria, comes in. He’s batted at three, and it gives him the flexibility to bat anywhere. He knows how to score hundreds, our philosophy in Test cricket is the top six batters have to be able to score hundreds. He sets himself nicely wherever that opportunity comes up.”
Asked about Australia’s pace bowling options for the summer, with Michael Neser and Sean Abbott ostensibly backups for Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson, Langer was equally blunt in stating that he hoped the former pair did not play – because it meant the “big four” were fit and firing all the way through three ODIs, three T20Is and four Tests.
“I say this with great respect to Sean and Michael Neser but I hope not,” Langer said. “Because it means our bowlers, those three guys will play the first game if they’re fit, healthy and firing. And that’s how you want it to be, you guys are probably sick of me saying it – that old saying, that it’s harder to get out of the team than into the team. I said two-and-a-half years ago when I got the job, that is what we want.
“It’s great to see competition building in Australian cricket but I hope nobody else gets to. Because it means they’re bowling well, fit and healthy and we’ve got our three first pick bowlers on the park. But who knows. In cricket we know through this last eight or nine months of Covid period that things can happen and change so quickly. We just have to be agile and whatever happens , we’ll be ready to take on the challenge and bring guys in. But I am so confident the guys we can bring in now are really, really good seasoned cricketers and they’ll fill the shoes if they have to.”
As for the imminent commencement of an international season that had looked in grave doubt for much of the year due to Covid-19, Langer said that any anxiety about the start of the schedule would linger all the way through, given numerous instances of outbreaks that have changed plans for many both within cricket and beyond it.
“We’ve been nervous, we’re still nervous, we’ll be nervous until the last ball of the summer’s bowled,” Langer said. “We saw what happened in Adelaide. We saw the creativity of the AFL, I was more closely keeping an eye on the AFL than the NRL and the other codes. We’ve seen the Australian Open, we’re all sensitive to the current environment. We’ll be relieved when we hopefully get through the whole summer.
“I know there’s some people who are working around the clock to ensure this series goes on. It’s important not only for the economic health of the game in Australia but also for a lot of people around the world. I know in India at the moment Covid has had a real impact. For the Indians in India and Australians here to watch Australia and India will be great entertainment. Hopefully it will put some smiles on people’s faces – that’s the bigger picture we’re looking at as well.
“We can’t wait to get it underway on Friday and we can’t wait to get the last ball bowled of great cricket in Brisbane in a few months’ time.”