Ricky Ponting’s hard hands against spin bowling and the psychological edge he had yanked from the batsman very early in the 2001 series helped former India spinner Harbhajan Singh plot out the ex-Australian skipper frequently.
Harbhajan, who played 103 Test matches and took 417 wickets in his career, dismissed Test cricket’s second highest run-getter 10 times – five times each in the 2001 home series and the 2007-08 series Down Under.
Harbhajan, however, has enormous respect for Pointing not just as a batsman but as a guide and coach to youngsters when the two shared the same dressing room at Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League.
“There is no doubt that he (Ponting) is one of the best batsman to have played the game. He will always be remembered as one of the greatest to have played the game,” Harbhajan told IANS on Friday. “I had my time against him when I thought I was equal to him at my best and I began feeling that way when I got him out a couple of times.”
Harbhajan said that he found some technical frailty in Ponting, who was known to smash fast bowlers all round the park.
“I could see that while coming forward in his defence, he jabs (at the ball) and doesn’t play with soft hands. I felt that in his defence, he comes with hard hands. The ball that bounces or rises would hit the top of his bat and that always gave me a chance for bat-pad or get him out caught at short-leg or backward short-leg. And once I sensed that he wasn’t really comfortable in defending the ball, I could play on the weakness,” said the 40-year-old.
Harbhajan said that solid defence is needed to become a complete and proper batsman. ‘Bhajji’ got the Australian in various ways. Apart from getting him out with close-in fielders, he also got him out leg-before and caught at slips. Ponting could score just over 200 Test runs against the India off-spinner.
“You may have every shot, but if you have solid defence you become a very proper, complete batsman. When he used to play fast bowling, it never seemed like he had hard hands but against a spinner you have to play with slightly more soft hands. I felt he would rush, and the ball would hit his gloves. I got him out four-five times (five times) in that series against us in 2001,” Harbhajan explained.
“After that, every time I played against him, it was more of a mental game. When you get out to a bowler a few times then it is always at the back of your mind. Even if you are batting at 130, you always think, oh this bowler has come, hope he doesn’t get me out. That was probably something he had on his mind. Maybe that was an advantage for me. I had in my mind that I can get him out. I felt like conditions don’t matter, surface doesn’t matter. I can get him out, so it worked for me.”
Harbhajan, however, says his success doesn’t lessen the fact that Ponting was not just a batting great but also a great mentor. The two were together at MI. Ponting coached the franchise between 2014 to 2016.
“He was the best player I have played against. I have got great regards for him as a player. When we played against each other, we always had that tussle but when we were together with MI, he was phenomenal in guiding us to our maiden IPL title.”
The two never discussed the rivalry or dismissals in the MI camp.
“We never sat and discussed the rivalry or dismissals as such. We never spoke to each other when we played against each other. But when we were at the Mumbai Indians, we never spoke about how I dismissed him or how he couldn’t play me. He was there to help me.”
The right-arm off-break bowler said that the good thing about Ponting was that he knew what to do to get the best out of experienced players.
“He was phenomenal with MI as coach. We really enjoyed playing under him as coach. He was someone who could guide a lot of players. Was very good with youngsters, and would give a lot of space to us as seniors. He would say you know what you have to do. However, at the same time, he would give us responsibility to do the needful and set example for teammates to follow.”
Have been focussing more on my goal-scoring ability, says Shilanand Lakra
Shilanand Lakra, a young forward in the Indian men’s hockey team, is determined to make the most of the ongoing period where he has having found the opportunity to focus on personal development since the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
“Obviously having made my debut for the senior team in 2018 at the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Cup, I would have expected myself to play more than two tournaments in these two years, but that is how competitive the sport in our country has become. We’ve got some amazing players in the core probables’ group, and my aim has always been to earn a place in the team through more consistent performances in domestic tournaments and in our national camps,” said Lakra who is part of the ongoing national camp at the Sport Authority of India (SAI) facility here.
“The opportunity that the pandemic has provided me with is that I’ve had enough time to re-think and analyse what I’ve been doing these past two years, and what else I can do to progress in my career. I’ve also managed to speak to the coaching staff, and especially chief coach Graham Reid, who has helped me identify areas where I need to improve upon,” he added.
The leading scorer at the Sultan of Johor Cup in 2019, where he bagged five goals in six appearances, and helped the team win the silver medal, Shilanand believes goal-scoring is also something that he has focused on.
“I think in my 12 international caps, I haven’t been able to score, and as a forward, goal-scoring is something you should constantly be working on, so that is what I’ve been trying to do. I’ve got some amazing and experienced players around me in the camp here, and I’m trying to take in as much information as I can, and also train myself to get better in all areas including goal-scoring,” he said.
The 21-year-old idolises two of the best players his state has produced in Dilip Tirkey and current fellow core probable Birendra Lakra, and wants to emulate their longevity.
“I think both of them have been exceptional in their respective journeys, and I get so much inspiration when I speak to them, and read about how the struggles they had to endure in order to get to the biggest stage,” said Shilanand.
“It is a marvellous achievement for both to have played so many years at the top level, and that longevity is something I would like to have in my career as well, and give back to my nation and my state in some way,” he added.
Bengal T20 Challenge: Mohammad Kaif steals win for Town against Kalighat
An all-round show from Md. Kaif saw Town Club snatch a thrilling three-wicket win against Kalighat Club in the second match of the inaugural Bengal T20 Challenge.
After opting to bat, Kalighat suffered from some initial hiccups but they were able to post a competitive total of 148/7 on Tuesday evening in the match played at the Eden Gardens. However, Town found a way to beat their opponents, finishing at 152/7 with two balls to spare.
During their chase, Town had all but lost the match after losing seven wickets for 66 runs. However, that is when Azaz Ansari and Kaif came together and saw their team cross the line. Kaif remained unbeaten on 58 off just 24 balls, an innings studded with 6 fours and 4 sixes while Ansari supported him well with unbeaten 20 off 16 deliveries.
During Kalighat’s innings, Kaif had bowled with discipline and gave away 25 runs in his allotted 4 overs and taking a wicket. For Kalighat, captain Subham Chatterjee was the star batsman as he contributed with 63 off just 47 balls.
“I am very happy to win this match for my team. I believed in my ability and with every shot I became more confident. It felt very good to play cricket after long time,” Kaif said after the match.
Earlier, the trophy was unveiled at the Club House by West Bengal Sports Minister Aroop Biswas at a restrained ceremony marked by Covid-19 protocols.
KL Rahul ready to step into Dhoni’s shoes, guide spinners
For years, MS Dhoni donned three roles — of a player, captain and a finisher with the bat. Additionally, he was a guide to the spin duo of Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav over the last few years, even chiding them for straying away from the line and plan.
Now, KL Rahul is most likely to step into his shoes in the ODI series that begins on Friday at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Rahul played as a wicketkeeper-batsman in India’s last ODI series in New Zealand and excelled with the bat scoring big in two of the those three ODIs.
“Nobody can fill the place of MS Dhoni. He has obviously shown us the way or the wicketkeeper-batsman’s role — how it should be done and obviously we have learnt a lot from MS Dhoni,” said Rahul in a media interaction while replying to a question from IANS on how he hopes to fill Dhoni’s shoes with regard to dealing with spinners.
“Me with Yuzi (Yuzvendra Chahal), Jaddu (Ravindra Jadeja) and Kuldeep (Yadav) and other spinners in the team we have a decent friendship and understanding in the middle. Yeah I think, I will probably go and give them feedback as to what can be a better pace or length to bowl at or if something is going wrong or you can change the field setting,” he said.
In his last ODI series for India, in New Zealand in February this year, Rahul played all the three games as a wicketkeeper-batsman. He took a catch and effected a stumping in those games.
“I think anybody doing that role of a wicketkeeper will have that responsibility (to tell bowlers including spinners to do) and like I said I have done this in one series in New Zealand. I enjoyed that and I can get with reading the games and give the bowlers the captain, some good feedback from behind the stumps,” he added.
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