Western Australia 29 for 1 trail Victoria 256 (Dean 87, Hardie 3-29, Rocchiccioli 3-39) by 227 runs
Pucovski, who played his sole Test match against India in January 2021, made 39 from 68 balls in his comeback after 12 months away from first-class cricket having fought battles with concussion and taken time out for his mental health.
Having fallen short to WA in the last two Shield finals, Victoria were hoping to make a statement in the opening round. But they struggled to build on the platform from Pucovski and veteran Dean, who top-scored with a fluent 87.
WA’s new-look pace attack was particularly wayward in the first session, only bowling one maiden, before Hardie led a trademark comeback for the home team.
Hardie, whose bowling loads were managed last season, bowled first change and finished with 3 for 29 off 16 overs, while offspinner Corey Rocchiccioli ran through the lower-order.
Haskett, 22, was notably sharper than spearheads Cameron Gannon and Charlie Stobo and he bowled Dean in the second session to claim a memorable maiden wicket.
WA’s fightback seemingly vindicated Whiteman’s decision to bowl first. Spicy conditions had been expected similarly to low-scoring contests at the ground early last season, but the green-tinged pitch lacked venom in sunny conditions.
All eyes were on Pucovski, who survived a couple of nervy moments early to strike his first boundary through gully in the fourth over. With the pitch surprisingly sedate, WA’s quicks didn’t revert often to bouncers but when they did Pucovski was unruffled as his confidence flourished.
Dean had most of the strike and played several attractive drives in a strong start after his form nosedived at the end of last season.
Dean and Pucovski, especially, received strong applause from their team-mates as they walked off the ground for lunch, but Victoria’s mood considerably soured as the day wore on.
When Will Sutherland, who has taken the captaincy reins from Handscomb, was bowled cheaply by a pearler from Hardie, Victoria’s hopes of taking advantage of a weakened WA team had dimmed.
WA are vastly different to the side that defended their title just over six months ago. With a slew of stars part of Australia’s World Cup campaign, WA’s depth has been further tested with frontline quicks Jhye Richardson, Joel Paris and Matt Kelly working their way back from injuries.
Pace bowler Lance Morris did not play with his workload managed in his return from a back injury that ruled him out of the Ashes.
Emerging allrounder Cooper Connolly was set to make his first-class debut, but faces a spell on the sidelines after undergoing a toe operation following a boating accident last week.
Victoria are without fringe Test opener Marcus Harris and veteran quick Peter Siddle, who returned home after a stint with Tasmania.
Tristan Lavalette is a journalist based in Perth