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By Nishad Pai Vaidya
One of the game’s greatest batsmen and finest leaders is set to grace the Indian Premier League (IPL) after five long years. Ricky Ponting comes into the IPL 2013 as the captain of the Mumbai Indians with an opportunity to rewrite history. Personally, he would want to erase the memories of his forgettable stint of 2008 and stamp his authority like the other greats of his vintage. From his team’s point of view, he has to inspire a side to play to its potential and fulfil their promise of going all the way.
Ponting’s hasn’t played a lot of T20 cricket. The format came into prominence during the ICC World T20 2007, where he led Australia. In a way, that was the turning point as the world embraced the modern version and the IPL was born the following year. Ponting appeared in four games for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the inaugural edition, but without much success. Thereafter, his T20 career stalled a touch as he prioritized Test and One-Day International (ODI) cricket.
In Ponting’s 30 T20 matches so far, 17 are internationals. That shows how he has majorly stayed away from the format. In 2009, he gave up T20 Internationals after Australia were astonishingly knocked out in the first round at the World T20 in England. He had also withdrawn from the IPL that year and his contract was bought out by Kolkata the following season. Thus, there was a two-year period where he didn’t play any T20 cricket. His next appearance only came in late 2011 when he turned up for the Hobart Hurricanes in the Big Bash League (BBL).
The IPL 2013 would be Ponting’s first long stint in T20 cricket. The recently-concluded BBL was one tournament where he played a few games on the trot and did very well. The fact that he was in the running for the Player of the Tournament shows that he is still hungry and is enjoying the game. Incidentally, he rolled his arm over a few times during the BBL — something he declared he wouldn’t do in the IPL.
Mumbai have done well to pick Ponting as he brings three aspects to the table — his brilliant batting, electric fielding and astute captaincy. Ponting, the batsman would follow the copybook and one doesn’t expect him to try too many extraordinary strokes. His contemporary and Mumbai teammate, Sachin Tendulkar has had tremendous success by sticking to his natural gameplan. Ponting may follow a similar approach and use his natural skill to thread the ball through the park.
There is a certain authority in Ponting’s batting with his typically high back-lift and the dominating stride forward. His battles with some of the fast-bowlers would be worth watching as he would be eying domination. Mumbai should open the batting with him as that would help stabilize the top — an area that has been their Achilles heel. During the initial overs, he would rely on timing to split the gaps and target the boundaries. It would be a great lesson for all youngsters to see a genuine great essaying cricketing strokes and maintaining a good strike-rate.
Even at the age of 38, Ponting is one of the best fielders in the world. He is absolutely electric in the covers and has made that position his own over the years. Fielding is often the difference between two sides in a T20 game and separates the victors from the vanquished. Mumbai have fantastic fielders in Kieron Pollard and Rohit Sharma — who form an impenetrable ring on the off-side during the powerplays. That has become stronger with the addition of Ponting.
If there was one area Mumbai have been found wanting in the past is captaincy. Tendulkar struggled to maintain consistency and fumbled at times. Harbhajan Singh didn’t have much to show apart from the Champions League T20 (CLT20) 2011 success. On many occasions, Mumbai haven’t been clinical and have won games after a struggle. Ponting can bring in a new approach and may help iron out the wrinkles His invaluable experience as captain of Australia would come in handy as the pressure of leading an IPL side would be considerably lesser. Knowing his Australian mindset, he would demand more clinical and professional finishes from his side.
In many ways, this season would determine Ponting’s future in the IPL. His compatriots such as Shane Warne, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist graced the league well after international retirement as they kept contributing to their respective side. Ponting can raise his stocks during this IPL with performances that helps Mumbai break the shackles of the past that haunts them.
Ponting, the T20 cricketer takes centrestage from here on as he moves to the Caribbean Premier League. The arrival was long overdue and it is time he makes an impact on the youngest format. Will he emulate the likes of Gilchrist and Tendulkar and leave a lasting impression on T20 cricket?
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_
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