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Ricky Ponting: When you lose a player like Pant, it obviously leaves a void

Ricky Ponting knows how to play it straight. Every year he comes to the Indian Premier League (IPL), looking fitter and ever so determined to end Delhi Capitals’ title-drought.

A member of Australia’s three World Cup-winning squads, Ponting has better credentials than most coaches in the IPL, especially when it comes to team management. He commands the respect of everyone on the team and the support staff. In fact, the team’s Director of Cricket, Sourav Ganguly, finds Ponting’s presence “great” in the dugout.

In this interview, Ponting shares his candid views on various subjects, varying from the challenges posed by the absence of Rishabh Pant to the future of the 50-over game. Excerpts:

Ricky, at the outset, what are the challenges that Delhi Capitals faces this season?

I think, there are always a lot of challenges around the start of an IPL for varying reasons. You know, international programs are ones that create a challenge. A lot of your overseas players don’t join your group until really late. We had South African players Anrich Nortje and Lungi Ngidi missing the first game. Rovman Powell and Rilee Rossouw only arrived the day before the first match. So, you know, there’s a lot of challenges there within itself. And then when you lose one of the world’s best T20 players who happens to be our captain and wicketkeeper, it obviously leaves a bit of a void to fill. I mean, Rishabh Pant is irreplaceable as a player. There’s no doubt about that. There’s no other Rishabh Pant out there that we could just go and pluck out of somewhere. So, we’ve decided to go with a really young talented player in Abhishek Porel as our replacement player for Rishabh. We wanted to give Sarfaraz Khan a go with the gloves (in the first match) and see how that would work, because of the importance of his batting in our middle order. So, there have been some challenges for us, but every team has them. You know, every team waits for overseas players to arrive. Every team has injuries, as we saw in game one, with Kane Williamson going down without being able to take part in the tournament at all. So, there are challenges they have to work through. As a coaching group, and as a group of players, we’ve got to find a way to try and cover the best way we can, especially with Rishabh not around.

Big void: Pant was involved in a horrific car accident last December, and has been ruled out of competitive action for much of 2023. Ponting is certain his absence will be felt by the Capitals.

Big void: Pant was involved in a horrific car accident last December, and has been ruled out of competitive action for much of 2023. Ponting is certain his absence will be felt by the Capitals.
| Photo Credit: SPORTZPICS for IPL

What ails Capitals in the big matches, say in the playoffs?

As a coaching group, and as a playing group, we are trying to bring a high level of consistency into the way that we play cricket. We have been a consistent team now for the last four or five seasons. In fact, I think we’ve actually won more games in the IPL than any other franchise in the last four seasons. But as you also point out there, we have stumbled in some critical moments in big games. We lost that final a couple of years ago to the Mumbai Indians. We lost another knockout game to Chennai Super Kings, which, you know, just a couple of decisions late in the game probably cost us the ability to make it into two consecutive finals. But the other thing you learn about the IPL is that it’s not an easy tournament to win. There are a couple of teams that have sort of dominated the tournament. Other teams have found it quite difficult to win. Obviously, Delhi Capitals is one of those. We’ve never won an IPL and we’re striving for that on a daily basis. So, look, hopefully, this year is the year. We’ve got some challenges already, but we feel that we’ve got a squad of players that are definitely good enough to get us through to the final.

Can you elaborate on the factors that led to the selection of young wicketkeeper-batter Abhishek Porel?

I’ve got no doubt about Abhishek’s keeping ability. We had a few keepers in the camp with us for about two weeks, leading up to game one. We wanted to have a look at a few guys and make a decision on who was best suited; not so much just about right now, but looking forward to the future in case Rishabh’s injury is a long term one. We wanted to make sure we had the best young talent. We’ve invested in that as we’ve done in Delhi Capitals since I’ve been here. We’ve always invested in young talent. Looking back, we picked Prithvi Shaw when he had never played a single T20 game in his life. Abhishek Sharma is no longer with us, but we invested in him as a 17- or 18-year-old kid and he’s now opening the batting for Sunrisers Hyderabad. Yash Dhull is with us at the moment. So, we try to have a really good balance of youth and experience through our program. What we’ve done over the years has worked really well for us. Abhishek Porel got his opportunity and I actually feel that everyone will see him in this IPL and realise just how talented the kid is.

What about Philip Salt as a keeping option?

Phil was available for selection from Game One, but we decided to go with Rilee Rossouw in our middle-order against Lucknow. Yes, he’s another keeping option, but if you go with an overseas keeper, obviously that limits your batters or your fast bowling options. So, there are all those sorts of things you have to take into consideration. Apart from Phil’s keeping, his batting has been ultra impressive since he has been here with us. He is also someone that you might see in the mix in the next few weeks.

Given the large number of support staff with the Delhi Capitals, how much do you think would be enough?

I think it’s fair to say that we don’t need any more. We’ve definitely got enough right now, and we’ve got some great people. To create a great culture and environment, you need to have people around. I think we’ve really got that here at the Delhi Capitals. James Hopes and I have worked together for a long time. Praveen Amre too has been around the Delhi Capitals setup for a long time. Obviously, Ajit Agarkar is there now and so is Shane Watson. I think through staff and through your playing group. I think continuity is a big thing and that’s what we’re trying to create here with the right people.

Bright spot: Ponting has high hopes from Abhishek Porel, the replacement keeper for Rishabh Pant.

Bright spot: Ponting has high hopes from Abhishek Porel, the replacement keeper for Rishabh Pant.
| Photo Credit: SPORTZPICS for IPL

Though these are still early days, how do you look at the Impact Player rule?

As you said, it is very early. In the first game against us, the Lucknow Super Giants used its Impact Player well. K. Gowtham came into the game and hit his first and only ball for a six! And then bowled four overs, I think for 22. So, you would think that he was a nice impact player.

Looking at our impact player, Aman Khan had very little impact on the game, and he didn’t have much of an opportunity anyway. Thinking back to Game One where CSK brought in Tushar Deshpande, he had very little impact on the game. Impact player… it’s an interesting wording because you would think because they’re only potentially playing half the game, they’ve got less of a chance of having an impact on the game. At the moment, it’s still so young.

As the tournament is probably halfway through, we’ll have a better idea of what sort of value it’s adding to the tournament. I believe the one thing that it was designed to do was to give more Indian players an opportunity to play in the IPL. So, you know, in a few weeks we’ll have a clearer picture of it all.

With all the rules tweaked so blatantly to favour the batters in white-ball cricket, do you think we can have a good, low-scoring T20 game on a not-so-friendly batting surface?

I absolutely think that we can have that. I think a lot of the best 50-over games and the best T20 games are the lowest scoring ones. So, I’m with you. I’m not a believer in, you know, having to bring the boundaries right in, make the wickets really good and make the boundary small, so we see more fours and sixes because I think I think the crowds can get sick of seeing that. To be honest, I think the crowds can get sick of seeing sixes and fours. They want to see more of an even contest between bat and ball. Certainly, us cricket purists want to see a pretty, even balance.

Do you see a future for the 50-over game?

I’m a big believer in 50-over cricket. I’m a big believer in going back to only having one ball. Make the boundaries as big as they can, just use the one new ball rather than two new balls. By the 30-over mark, you’d have a little bit of reverse swing, the ball starts to lose some colour, gets a bit softer, and makes it a more even contest between bat and ball. So, I would like to see that in the 50 over game.



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