Ricky Ponting, the Mumbai Indians (MI) head coach, has expressed his doubts over the participation of the team’s premier pacer Lasith Malinga, at least in the initial phase of the Indian Premier League, and discussed the value of batsmen Kieron Pollard and Lendl Simmons, ahead of the first training session with the full squad – sans Malinga – for the upcoming season.
Malinga has not joined the squad so far, informed Ponting. “The tournament rules for replacement give us time till the fifth game to name a replacement. I’m not sure of Malinga taking part in the first half of the competition,” he said.
He named South African Marchant de Lange and New Zealander Tim Southee as fast bowling options for the Lankan death overs specialist. “At this moment, [Malinga] playing looks unlikely. The best way is to look ahead, whether to play Marchant [or] Southee.”
Malinga stepped down as Sri Lanka’s captain at the World T20 following unsatisfactory recovery from a knee injury. He was the standout performer for MI last year, commanding respect from opposition openers in the Powerplay and keeping strokeplayers guessing in the closing overs.
He took 24 wickets last season, in keeping with expectations as the spearhead in the attack. “If you look back at the tournament last year, Malinga bowled at his best when the team played at its best,” Ponting said, expressing disappointment to lose a strike bowler.
Pollard’s recovery from a knee injury, however, is reason to rejoice for the MI coach. The West Indian allrounder was dropped from the West Indies squad for World T20 on fitness grounds. Ponting explained: “He has been training with us and will play the first game. Our physio is surprised at how fit Pollard is at the moment.”
Pollard is a match-winner in his own ways, He is a brutal, hard-hitting batsman, and as a slow bowler he is tough to hit due to his height and pace changes. Pollard is also an exceptional fielder, possessing the capability to pull off critical catches and putting pressure on batsmen running between the wickets with his reach and throwing arm.
Ponting also welcomed Pollard’s countryman Simmons, member of the title winning World T20 squad. “With Simmons, it was important to switch off World Cup mood and get into the IPL phase. That is exactly what he told me when we met and had a long discussion,” said Ponting.
Simmons had blown away the Indian attack in the semifinals at Wankhede stadium in Mumbai with an unbeaten 82, and then had got out for a duck in the final against England. “He is looking for the next opportunity to make up for show in the final,” Ponting said.
The domestic faces in MI squad came in for special mention from the head coach. Responding to a query about more first-class players getting a chance to contribute, unlike what has been the norm so far, the Aussie said: “Part of my job is to see that domestic players come through fast (into the playing squad).”
Nitish Rana’s form in the domestic season for Delhi earned him a place in Ponting’s shortlist of Indians to look out for. “Nitish will be looking to deliver in IPL. There are others like Jitesh Sharma whom we saw in practice matches. Unmukt Chand is waiting in the wings.”
Ponting ruled out any career move to coach an international squad, Australia or India, saying that finding time to spend with a young family ranks higher in priority. Asked about Australia’s T20 showing, he explained: “Australian performance dipped in the last two events (Asia Cup and World Cup). As a team, they could not seize the key moments.”
Rohit Sharma to open
Rohit Sharma desires to open the batting in Mumbai Indians’ initial games, though is open to dropping down the order later in keeping with team interests. “As a team, we are working towards getting the right balance, looking at the combinations,” Rohit said.
The Indian opener in T20 World Cup is mentally geared for a similar role in IPL 2016. “I will open in the first four to five matches, then take it from there,” said the MI skipper. Lendl Simmons, Parthiv Patel and Unmukt Chand can also open.
Simmons averaged 45 runs in 13 matches for the defending champions last season. Patel’s batting average was 26.07 after 14 appearances for MI in 2015. The West Indian right-hander and the Indian southpaw opened in the IPL 2015 final against at Eden Gardens.
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