Punter’s plunge

Master class… the Mumbai Indians head coach, Ricky Ponting, offers some valuable tips to Unmukt Chand (back to the camera) and Parthiv Patel during a practice session at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.-PTI Master class… the Mumbai Indians head coach, Ricky Ponting, offers some valuable tips to Unmukt Chand (back to the camera) and Parthiv Patel during a practice session at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.

There is a lot of expectation riding on the new Mumbai Indians head coach, Ricky Ponting, as he brings his vast experience and expertise to the former Indian Premier League champion outfit. By G. Viswanath.

Ricky Ponting is one of the Australian cricketers of recent times most familiar to Indians. He did not exactly ride roughshod over the Indian bowlers in India, making just 662 runs in 14 Tests for a dismal average of a fraction lower than 27.

However, we have seen him on television collar the Indian attack in Australia, scoring 1893 runs in 15 Tests for a formidable average of 86.04, with seven centuries and as many half-centuries. The former Australian skipper has a better record though in One-Day Internationals in India.

For an Australian cricketer, Ponting, 40, has been a rarity in the Indian Premier League (IPL) that is now eight years old. He did not make any impact in the Twenty20 bash: he played four matches for Kolkata Knight Riders in 2008 and six for Mumbai Indians before stepping down as captain for Rohit Sharma to take charge in 2013. He simply did not fit into the shortest version of the game though he had the big shots in his repertoire. However, his poor Twenty20 record has far from diminished his standing as a cricketer; Mumbai Indians values him a lot and the franchise has made him its head coach for IPL 2015.

What caught the attention of the onlookers and the media on the first day of Mumbai Indians’ camp on a warm afternoon at the Wankhede Stadium was his hands-on approach in dealing with certain aspects of coaching the youngsters.

The youngsters are not tyros in the world of cricket though, having represented their states in the BCCI’s junior tournaments, some even in the Ranji Trophy. Unmukt Chand, India’s ICC under-19 World Cup-winning captain and an established opening batsman for Delhi, was also busy in the nets. The number of players at the net session was small; the senior players and overseas professionals were yet to arrive after a hectic World Cup programme in Australia and New Zealand. Unmukt Chand, Delhi junior Nitish Rana and Baroda all-rounder Hardik Pandya were the ones to benefit the most. Ponting may not have a coaching certificate to show, but his 27000-plus runs in Tests and ODIs make him the right person for young cricketers to seek advice and valuable tips.

Always busy while batting or fielding in the cordon, Ponting paid attention to the grip and back swing. And most importantly, he was explaining the pull shot, which was his favourite right through his career. Raised on fast and bouncy pitches in Australia, and being small-made, Ponting realised the pull and hook shots were essential for him to score quick runs. New Zealand’s Martin Crowe, Antiguan Vivian Richards and India’s own Rahul Dravid excelled in playing the horizontal bat shot forward of square and towards the mid-wicket region. The legendary Learie Constantine had advised young cricketers to put off thoughts of attempting the pull shot against stump-high balls, rightly explaining that there was always the peril of top edging the shot and offering a catch.

An old Australian coaching manual, published by New South Wales, says that the pull shot should be played with the full face of the bat, and off medium pace and slow bowling pitched short and short of good length. “I have a particular interest in and love for the pull shot.

Having played my first few matches on concrete wickets, and being slightly under the average height, I found it difficult to negotiate the ball slightly under-pitched with a straight bat. The resultant outcome of this was I was forced to employ a shot where I pulled the ball on the on side with a cross bat,” explained Sir Don Bradman in How to Play Cricket.

With not many batsmen to attend to, Ponting took each one of them — Chand, Pandya and Rana, a left-hander — and demonstrated from start to finish how the pull shot has to be played, and where it has to be directed. Once the IPL starts, Ponting will be the most sought after by both the experienced and the youngsters, who would look to improve their overall cricket and understanding of the game. “He’s a thorough professional. He goes out of the way to work with the youngsters in the team,” said a Mumbai Indians official.

Ponting has succeeded John Wright as the head coach of Mumbai Indians. “We are delighted to have Ricky back with us, and we look forward to his contribution based on his experience and expertise,” said Anil Kumble last October.

Kumble is part of the Owners Group and he will oversee the implementation of the Vision for Reliance Sports in football, basketball and cricket. Wright, who was the Mumbai Indians coach during IPL-6 and 7, is entrusted with the task of evaluating and establishing a youth development organisation, and he will work with the Mumbai Indians management in talent scouting.

All eyes will be on Ponting though during the current IPL, as the Tasmanian brings his vast knowledge of the game into a format in which he has been least successful.