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IPL Staff in Mumbai 31 March 2013 - 09:23pm IST

Core leadership group is MI’s strength: Ponting

Mumbai Indians skipper keen to draw on Wright and Kumble’s experiences

Former Australian skipper, Ricky Ponting makes a comeback to the IPL after a four-year break, taking over the reins of the Mumbai Indians. Ponting’s first and only IPL stint before this was as part of the Kolkata Knight Riders in 2008.

‘Punter’ as he is famously known, expressed excitement at becoming the part of the biggest Twenty20 league in the world again. “I am really excited to come back,” Ponting said during his maiden media interaction as Mumbai Indians’ captain.

“The last time I played in the IPL I said that I hope I’ll be able to come back and play this tournament again. The way things have worked out with my retirement from international cricket and finishing well with the domestic season in Tasmania has given me the chance to come back here.

After retiring from international cricket in 2012, Ponting has begun to understand and play more of this format, a format he never quite came to terms with as an international cricketer.

“The reason why I didn’t come for the previous few IPL seasons was because I had a lot of international cricket on my plate. Now that I have the time the opportunities to play in these domestic T20 leagues is really opening up. I’m here for two months, then have a stint with Surrey and the Caribbean Premier League as well.

“For me as an international cricketer Test and ODI cricket was all about it. I had to make some tough decisions towards the end of my international career to not play T20 cricket because I couldn’t keep playing all three formats the way I wanted to. So, I gave up T20 cricket internationally but I always knew there will be a chance to come back and play the format. I really enjoyed the Big Bash this year and got into the rhythm of T20 cricket, something I hadn’t done ever before,” Ponting said.

Ponting hoped he will be able to help MI take the last leap to the trophy this season. “As far as I am concerned there’s no better franchise to be with than the Mumbai Indians and the three days I’ve been here have been very exciting. The Mumbai Indians have had a good tradition in the IPL; they’ve reached the semi-final and have finished at the top once. They haven’t quite managed to win the tournament yet but hopefully this will be our season,” he said.

For fans the most exciting prospect of watching Ponting lead MI is that of him playing and batting alongside Sachin Tendulkar. The man himself agreed it was true. “It’s exciting to lead any IPL franchise but to think that I’m the captain of the Mumbai Indians and will be playing alongside Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh and a lot of guys with whom I’ve had some great on-field battles over the years is amazing.”

The new skipper believes the biggest of MI this season will be the core leadership group featuring himself, coach John Wright and team mentor Anil Kumble.

“At the Mumbai Indians we have John Wright, a successful India coach, Anil Kumble, a successful India captain and player and someone like me who has vast experience having played a lot of cricket in all conditions. So, we’ve put together a really strong leadership group around the team. We also have a lot of experienced cricketers like Sachin and Harbhajan.”

“This is something that’s really exciting for me as well. Luckily I had the chance to captain Tasmania and lead Australia for a long time. I’ve got a really good idea about what makes good teams successful and they’re all the things I’ll be bringing to the table here in Mumbai.”

While he will work closely with the coach, mentor and the senior players in the team, Ponting revealed he has been given a free hand in taking the team’s cricketing decisions.

“I will take information from Anil and John – they’re two other very senior members around our group. When it comes to selection, all three will work out our final XIs but both Anil and John have told me that they want me to be absolutely comfortable with the final XI that I take on to the ground.”

“I’ve been given the full rein to take up as much responsibility I need to have with the team. John’s not a big talker any way; he’ll just make sure everything’s organised well. Probably I’ll do all the talking around the team, which is how I like things any way. I think whatever is said around the team, it’s always best when said by the captain.”

Despite the strong contingent of overseas players and highly acclaimed Indian players, Mumbai haven’t yet been able to find a consistent opening pair. Ponting said, this season too MI’s batting order will remain flexible.

“We haven’t finalised our batting order yet. I think in T20s you need to have a lot of flexibility and we’ve spoken about that as a team. I want every batsman in our squad to be able to bat at any spot because that’s what we’ll need in the tournament,” he said.

Besides the cricketing and leadership part, what also excites Ponting is that unlike every other time he has played at the Wankhede Stadium, this time Sachin Tendulkar’s home crowd will be on his side too.

“Every time I’ve played in Mumbai, the roar from the crowd when Sachin is about to face his first ball has always been deafening. Till now I have always been in the opposition team but now I’ll be in his team. So, it will be a lot of fun for me in that roar.”

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