It was rather serendipitous that the last time Ricky Ponting featured in an IPL match as a player, it was against a side that he would go on to coach into their first-ever IPL final in 2020 – Delhi Capitals.
Fate, however, would’ve been the last thing on Ponting’s mind back in the summer of 2013 at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium, up against a team then known as Daredevils. Apart from the immediate fate of the side he was captaining that season, of course, which just happens to be the same team whose downfall he now plots for Tuesday’s final, Mumbai Indians.
That Kotla evening, Ponting didn’t walk out to bat. After four consecutive single-digit scores in his first season for Mumbai, the captain had demoted himself down the batting order from opener to No.7 for the game, before demoting himself out of the playing eleven for the rest of the season. But this drastic move only gave birth to a career in coaching.
Along with then head coach John Wright, Ponting shepherded new captain Rohit Sharma all the way to the title in 2013, Mumbai’s maiden IPL triumph. The backroom leader was even invited to the podium by Sharma to collect the trophy. Then, two years later in 2015, he replaced Wright as head coach and Mumbai again won the IPL, this time fighting back from the bottom of the table after the first six rounds of the edition.
But even as Ponting and Mumbai’s fortunes soared, Delhi’s plummeted. They finished dead last in 2013 and 2014, second to last in 2015 and third from the bottom in 2016 and 2017. Even Ponting’s appointment as Delhi coach in 2018 did little to stem the rot – the franchise finished last again.
Still, the campaign witnessed one major aspect of Ponting’s maiden stint with Mumbai. Midway through the floundering 2018 season, Delhi captain Gautam Gambhir dropped himself from the eleven and handed the reins to Shreyas Iyer. Ponting, of course, approved. “Having been in the same situation many years ago… I would like to congratulate Gautam for having put his team ahead of himself,” Ponting said then.
He could well have been Australia’s T20I coach as well, had the ball-tampering incident not happened (it was Ponting who insisted that Justin Langer take over all three formats). Perhaps this helped him focus all his energies on Delhi in 2019, a season that presented Ponting with a clean slate.
Everything about this Delhi was fresh; the owners, the name and importantly, key faces in the squad. Shikhar Dhawan got over 500 runs, Kagiso Rabada finished with 26 wickets and even Ishant Sharma, who had gone unsold in the previous auction, chipped in with 13 scalps and labelled Ponting “the best coach I’ve ever met.”
The 2019 campaign saw Delhi make their first play-offs in seven years and finish second runners-up, their best-ever finish until Ponting took them a step further this year. “I’m probably more tactically up to date with this trend in this (format) than any of the others,” he said in a cricket.com.au interview.
Part of that trend is to accept that the coach is the unanimous backroom leader. Iyer may be the captain on the field, but watch any of Delhi’s dressing-room videos that has flooded the internet this season and it’s evident that he is just one of the boys, clapping and hooting as Ponting hands out badges to the top performers who weren’t honoured with the Man of the Match.
In one such video after Delhi made the 2020 play-offs, Ponting said: “Well done lads. As far as I’m concerned, the IPL begins now.” He then waited for the room to disperse, but the players stayed put as one of the breakout stars of the season, Anrich Nortje, rose to speak.
With his most serious face on and in a backdrop of silence, Nortje shook his head and said: “The boys wanted me to have a chat with you.” The shock on Ponting’s face was palpable, until Nortje pressed a badge of his own into the coach’s palm. “From all the boys, we want you to have this,” said Nortje, making Ponting blush and then hold it aloft with the pride that one would reserve for a trophy.
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