IPL 6: Ponting,India’s great adversary,now leads Tendulkar,Harbhajan

It almost sounds bizarre when you hear Ponting being introduced as skipper of a team called 'Indians'.

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Mumbai | Published: April 1, 2013 8:52:55 am

It almost sounds bizarre when you hear Ricky Ponting being introduced as the skipper of a team called the ‘Indians’,and see him decked in a blue jersey with the Mumbai Indians logo on his bicep. Few could have imagined that he would return to India one day and captain a team that included Sachin Tendulkar,of all people. And Harbhajan Singh. And as he faced the media for the first time since taking over the reins of the Mumbai Indians,Ponting himself seemed to be getting used to the idea of skippering his old foes.

“That is what is really exciting for me. To think that I am the captain of Mumbai Indians and I will be playing alongside Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh and some other guys with whom we (Australia) have some great battles over the years,” he said.

And it’s sure going to take the fans in Mumbai some time to get accustomed to Ponting at the helm. Even two months of the frantic IPL might not be enough.

What will help of course is if the new Mumbai skipper lives up to his billing and turns around the fortunes of a franchise that has always possessed great talent but failed to produce equivalent returns. Few teams in the IPL have witnessed such fickleness with regards to their leadership group despite boasting some lofty profiles. The fact that both Tendulkar and Harbhajan have washed their hands of the job only epitomises this.

“Mumbai Indians have a very proud tradition in the IPL,finishing at the top (of the league table) and being in the semi-finals. The only thing they haven’t cracked is winning the tournament yet and hopefully this year they will,” said Ponting.

Minimal IPL experience

While Ponting has minimal experience of the IPL — four games for Kolkata Knight Riders in the first season — he still brings with him qualities that could help in steering this Mumbai team to greater success. For his peers,he has remained the ultimate professional right through his career. Even in an Australian team filled with stars,he commanded instant respect,and never once had to demand it. And even while stamping his authority,he still managed to be one of the boys. Perhaps the best illustration of his qualities was that,even at the height of his powers as a batsman and leader,he still happily fielded at silly point.

Sceptics often questioned his credentials as a captain,despite the success Australia enjoyed during his reign,citing the incredible talent he possessed in his ranks. But the fact that he kept a team teeming with superstars united and focused towards a collective goal was in many ways Ponting’s greatest triumph as a skipper. Captaining Mumbai will be a roughly similar task,with names like Tendulkar,Harbhajan,Lasith Malinga and Kieron Pollard in their lineup. The high-profile names even extend into the backroom,which will contain,among others,coach John Wright and mentor Anil Kumble.

“I take information obviously from Anil and John. They are the two very senior members around the group. When it comes to the selection all three will work out the final eleven but Anil and John have both said to me they want me to be comfortable with the final eleven that I take out to the ground,” Ponting explained.

Right man for the job

With over-indulgent owners and many off-field distractions,leading the Mumbai Indians has never been a straightforward assignment. But in Ponting they might have found the ideal man to draw the line and keep priorities in place. And he will relish this. “I will do much talking around the team which I like anyways. I think it’s always best that whatever is said around the team is best said by the captain himself,” he said.

Ponting and T20 cricket might not have always gone hand-in-hand over the years,but the Tasmanian has arrived in India in the form of his life,having finished as the highest run-scorer in the Sheffield Shield. But whether Ponting will find his feet on pitches which haven’t necessarily suited his batting style,and in a format that he has never really warmed to,remains to be seen. But international retirement might have given him a chance to focus on his Twenty20 game in a way he never has before.

“For me as an international cricketer,Test cricket and ODI cricket was what was all about and I had to make some tough decisions towards the end of my international career not to play Twenty20 cricket internationally. I couldn’t keep playing all the three formats of the game as well as I wanted to,so I gave up T20 cricket in the short term but always knew that at the end of my international career there will be a chance to come back and play again,” Ponting said. “I really enjoyed the Big Bash this year and I really got into the rhythm of T20 cricket which probably I hadn’t done before.”

Over the next two months,Ponting hopes to make up for the four seasons of IPL action that he’s missed. Along the way,he also hopes to get used to having the raucous Indian cricket fans,who he’s heard roaring every time Tendulkar took strike,on his side for a change.

For Mumbai,who’ve never been shy of emptying their pockets for highly touted names,their unexpected punt on the one they call the Punter might just pay off. Whether Indian cricket fans will end up getting accustomed to seeing Ponting in Mumbai Indians colours: now that’s a different matter altogether.

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