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Exclusive: Ponting’s take on Pant, Gilchrist comparisons

Australia great Ricky Ponting, speaking on The ICC Review, has heaped praise on India wunderkind Rishabh Pant while sharing his experiences coaching the keeper-batter during the IPL.

MORE FROM THE ICC REVIEW: Ponting pays tribute to Virat Kohli; Ponting praises Shaheen, Babar

Pant has been a sometimes-divisive figure in the cricket fraternity. Traditionalists struggle to comprehend his aggressive, at times unorthodox, style of batting. Others laud his daring. Ponting falls in the latter category.

Pant the character

Ponting has worked closely with Pant during his time as coach of the Delhi Capitals, who Pant captained to the playoffs in his first season in the role in 2021.

“It’s a bit hard to put a finger on him as a player or a character,” Ponting said with a chuckle.

“What you see with his cricket is exactly what he is off the field. He is fun-loving and energetic. He is not much of a risk-taking guy off the field; he is always a fun guy to be around. He is always laughing loud and you always know when he is in the room. You know when he is playing cards or you know when he is about to walk into the team meeting.

“If you think about those things, he is exactly what he is like on the field. You have heard him behind the stumps, we all have heard him behind the stumps, the way he constantly talks through the course of the day. Then we have seen what he does with the bat, whether it be T20 cricket, 50-over cricket or some of his unbelievable knocks in Test cricket.

“That’s just him and you don’t want to ever try and curb or curtail that. He will learn and work it out for himself. I say it to a lot of the guys around in the Delhi Capitals with him that you take the good with the bad, because if you try and curtail the good, then he will just become another player. He will just be the same as everybody else. And right now, he is different from most, so we feed him as much rope as he needs and let him go and play.”

Ponting had high praise for his captaincy as well.

“Last year, he led the team really, really well,” said Ponting. “We obviously had a disappointing finish to our IPL campaign last year, but I think with him at the helm again this year, it will make him a better leader and make us a stronger franchise. I can’t wait to get back and work with him again.

“Whenever I get to training, he is always the first one I look forward to because I can always do some stuff with his batting and he will come looking for me as well for a bit of advice on different things, around his leadership or his batting. I have loved every moment of working with him.”

Comparisons with Adam Gilchrist

A left-handed wicketkeeper-batter who is known for his aggressive game, it was inevitable that Pant would draw comparisons with the great Gilchrist.

Having shared dressing rooms with both Pant and Gilchrist, Ponting is placed better than most to draw those similarities. However, he was cautious of going down that road.

“Yeah, [they are] little bit the same,” said Ponting. “I know Rishabh’s really burst onto the scene, but let’s just let him play his 50-60 Test matches first before we start making comparisons to one of the all-time great wicket-keeper batters.

“But if you think about their personalities – Rishabh is a lot more outward, a lot louder, a lot noisier and ultra-competitive. Gilly was ultra-competitive as well, but a lot quieter and reserved, until he got his bat in his hand and then he became exactly the same as Rishabh.

Ponting recalled a funny incident involving Adam Gilchrist that showed how he was similar to Pant in his approach to batting.

“You couldn’t try and tell him [Gilchrist] how to play,” said Ponting.

“I remember having a conversation with him late in a Test match at the SCG against Pakistan. He and I were batting, so we must have been four or five down, maybe just three overs left in the day, of which Danish Kaneria had to bowl two of them – and he was bowling around the wicket to Gilly into the big footmarks with a long-on and deep mid-wicket.

“So I went down to him and said, ‘Look, let’s just get through tonight, we have a beautiful batting day tomorrow, this wicket’s going to be good. There’s a new ball around the corner, so just get through’.

“Next ball, he ran down the wicket, it landed in the footmark and he hit it over long-on’s head for six, and I thought, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter. It’s no good me talking to him because he is not listening’. But he got through the night, I don’t know how he did, but he got through those few overs and went in and cashed in the next day.

“Rishabh will be exactly the same. If you look at Rishabh – I am not sure how many Test hundreds he’s got – but he has a few 90s in there. And he’s actually got out trying to bring up his hundred with a six. That’s the good and the bad, right?”

India youngsters to watch out for

Having coached in the IPL for three seasons now, Ponting has watched several players rise and make a mark in the T20 league. When asked about the exciting young Indian players coming through to watch out for on bigger cricket stages, Ponting named opener Prithvi Shaw and fast bowler Avesh Khan (both of whom he coached at Delhi Capitals), as well as Chennai Super Kings star Ruturaj Gaikwad.

“I hung on to one at the Delhi Capitals this year, one of our retained players is Prithvi Shaw, who we saw some absolute brilliance from through the IPL season last year,” said Ponting.

“Everyone’s known a bit about him for the last couple of years. I still think he is learning a lot about himself as a person and learning a lot about himself as a player. I am not sure I have seen many better to be totally honest.

“He is someone that when he isn’t batting well, doesn’t want to bat a lot. When he is batting well, he wants to bat all the time. And that sort of went against the grain of what I felt and knew as a player myself. But to get the best out of him, we will just let him go and get himself organised and sorted.

“The other one that I thought was absolutely outstanding and I have only seen him in T20 cricket, but that’s Ruturaj Gaikwad from Chennai Super Kings. He ended up being a part of the winning IPL team, a young guy that got a chance at the start of the season.

“Everyone knew that he was a nice player, more of a technically-correct sort of player but by the end of the IPL, he was doing some amazing things. He is someone who is I am sure going to play all three formats for India in the coming years. On the batting side of things, there are those couple there.

“We have Avesh Khan at Delhi Capitals last year who had an unbelievably good IPL season. He has been included in a couple of Indian squads.”

The IPL effect

Ponting also credited the IPL for the recent growth of Indian cricket, citing India’s Border-Gavaskar triumph over Australia in 2020-21 as the prime example.

“With the Test series in Australia last year, the completely depleted Indian team who were down to their second or almost third-string team were still able to draw a Test match in Sydney and win a Test match in Brisbane against Australia at full strength,” said Ponting.

“One, it says about how good the talent is but two, it actually says that they are ready to step up and play and they are not scared of the international stage. I think a lot of that comes from the exposure they get from the IPL.

“They are playing with all the best players in the world. They are probably playing under all the best coaches in the world. Give them a couple of years in the IPL and I am sure they take that back to their domestic cricket and dominate there. And when they get a chance for India, you can see – they cherish it, they relish the opportunity to do it, and they are not scared of anyone.”

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