IT WOULD BE NO surprise to most that two-time World Cup winning captain Ricky Ponting sums up his cricketing mantra in one word—winning. This mentality is so deeply ingrained in him that he expects no less of his teams—Indian Premier League outfit Delhi Capitals, where he is head coach, and the Australia national team, where he is a member of the coaching staff. Australia’s all-time highest run scorer in both ODIs and Tests will be assisting his former national teammate Justin Langer at the World Cup this year. Excerpts from an interview:
Q/How easy is it for Steve Smith and David Warner to gel with the national team? Aaron Finch has done well as skipper, so what are your thoughts on team dynamics?
A/They are excited to be back with the Aussie boys, but even more so to get back to playing. They are two class players and the Aussie team needs them to find their feet pretty quickly. I am sure it would have been daunting for the boys to walk back into the team meeting, but once they got that first 15-20 minutes out of the way, it would have felt like home again.
I think there is enough character in [Finch] to understand that [despite] Smith and Warner coming back in, he is the captain, he is the guy who will lead the team in the World Cup. I think they will accept that very well.
Q/Would you still call Australia underdogs?
A/I said it even before the series in India that Australia would be one of the favourites [at the World Cup]. Everyone probably laughed a bit, but the quality of the Australian team is very high. The depth of the ODI team is very deep and I think we have seen that. The fact that those guys came over here and turned around a 0-2 deficit into a series win was great.
I still think England are favourites going into the World Cup. India does not need to panic about what happened in the last series. They are a very good One-Day team and I think they will play the conditions in England really well. I think England, India and Australia are the three favourite teams.
Q/You had overseen Jasprit Bumrah’s development at Mumbai Indians. How can batsmen approach him, especially in the death overs?
A/I don’t think in the modern game the solution is to play somebody out. Even among guys with an unusual action, Jasprit is a very consistent bowler. His line and lengths are very good. The shorter formats probably suit him better because he is able to bowl his yorkers. He has got very good slower ball variations. But, every team in the World Cup has one or two of those guys. And, every team that comes up against India will be talking of Bumrah.
Q/Leg spinners are the x-factor these days in shorter formats. How do you look at that?
A/I think leg spin will play a huge part in the World Cup as well. Those overs in the middle that sometimes used to be dull are now going to be bit more exciting because now you will have leg spinners bowling. We will see wickets falling more in those overs.... I think you will see most teams playing two spinners. For South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, it was very unusual to do it. Earlier, these teams would have had one spinner and an allrounder who could bowl some spin. Now, teams are playing at least two spinners, and some teams might have another part-time spinner as well.
Q/From one legend to another in the making, what do you think of Virat Kohli as a batsman?
A/What he has done in international cricket is quite remarkable. When you are bowling against guys like him, you cannot just let them play the way they play. You have got to find a way to unsettle them somehow with a bowling change, fielding change, or use more bouncers. The better players will find a way out. But I think you just have to keep challenging them as much as you can.
Q/There has been criticism of Virat, the captain, that he has not been reading conditions and team combinations as well.
A/I always found it very difficult to judge opposition captains. As captain, you sit down and make tactics, but unless your bowlers can execute them right, sometimes you can make it look quite silly. I heard there were criticisms of his captaincy in the last few ODIs. If they had won those games, those criticisms would not have been there. Our game is all about results.
Q/How difficult has the coaching task been for Langer?
A/The last 12 months have been tough for Australian cricket. To take over the job at that time... I think he is finally seeing the rewards of all the hard work. One of the reasons I decided to get involved with the team was to try to help my mate and Australia win the World Cup. He is like my big brother. Our roles are slightly different now. When I was the captain, he was playing [under me]. Now, he is coach and I am working under him!
But he is just a terrific bloke. He has got very high expectations of anybody who comes into the Australian team and he is not shy of having upfront, one-on-one conversations with anyone. Much like what I like to do.
Q/Glenn Maxwell said you can make a player believe he can walk on fire. What is it about you that makes players feel so?
A/I just feel I am a positive person. I think that is a big part of being a coach—making players believe exactly how good they are, if not better than what they are.
I am passionate about coaching. I want to make everyone better. But I want the team to win. I am not going to sit back and let things go on as they are. I work hard with every player. I will be the last one to leave, and make sure we tick every box.