Tied down by time

Past masters are proving to be just that in this edition, struggling to perform to their high standards

Tied down by time

It was with much fanfare that Mumbai Indians unveiled Ricky Ponting as their captain after buying him at the auction just before the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League.

Having initially spread the word that Sachin Tendulkar would once again take over as the skipper, Mumbai installed the former Australian captain at the helm.

It was apparently to take the attention of other franchises away from Ponting that a veil of secrecy was maintained around Mumbai’s plans to appoint the Aussie as their leader. With their enviable ensemble of coaching staff – which includes (Chief Mentor) Anil Kumble, (coach) John Wright, (fielding coach) Jonty Rhodes to name a few – Mumbai were ready to take on the world.

It was indeed a dream-come-true of every cricket connoisseur to see two contemporary batting greats – Tendulkar and Ponting who vied for the best-batsman tag at various stages of their celebrated international careers — in the same team; more so when they walked out to open the innings. They were expected to turn the clock back and produce some vintage stuff. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

After six games, Mumbai realised their ambitious project had some snags in it. In the six games he played and captained, Ponting could manage a mere 52 runs at an average of 10.40. Two consecutive losses to Rajasthan Royals and Delhi Daredevils in away matches were enough to convince the Tasmanian that he needed to relinquish his seat of power, even if temporarily. With Mumbai doing exceedingly well under new captain Rohit Sharma, it will be extremely difficult for Ponting to return to the playing 11.

Have we seen the last of Ponting in IPL then? It was indeed sad to see the legend, who would decimate the best of bowling attacks in the world, being foxed by a bowler like Ajit Chandila, who hasn’t played a first-class match in over two years for his state team Haryana. Even in international cricket, you have very rare instances of a skipper stepping down due to lack of form but given the franchise pressure in IPL, non-performing captains feel obligated to drop themselves.
Ponting, though, has company. His former Australian team-mate Adam Gilchrist had to sit out after managing just 94 runs in eight matches. It wasn’t just the runs that have dried up, Gilchrist’s wicket-keeping too has taken a beating. He has dropped sitters and missed easy stumping chances this season, a clear indicator of poor reflexes due to advancing years. It was, however, Kumar Sangakkara who set this trend of captains dropping out of the side. He sat out a few matches in 2012 when he was leading the now-defunct Deccan Chargers and he did so again with Sunrisers Hyderabad after a string of poor scores.

Ponting’s opening partner, Sachin Tendulkar, hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory. Having mustered just 171 runs in 10 matches at 17.10 if he is still in Mumbai’s scheme of things, it’s only because he is Tendulkar. His mode of dismissals, bowled off incoming deliveries — common in his international tenure in recent times — has been extended to IPL as well and it doesn’t make for a pretty picture.     

Have these players overstayed their welcome? One thing is clear though. As much as T20 is a batsman’s game, it’s also more cruel to them. A bowler like Muttiah Muralitharan, though not the same force at 40-plus that he was a couple of years ago, still can hold his own as did Anil Kumble till he was an active player. Tendulkar still pulls out his straight drive and Ponting that dreaded pull. But they appear to have lost that ability to do it on a consistent basis.   

Among the 35-plus brigade, Chennai Super Kings’ opener Michael Hussey and to a lesser extent Rajasthan Royals’ captain Rahul Dravid have been doing well. Hussey, having retired from international cricket, continues to be one of CSK’s mainstays with 485 runs in 10 outings. In just over two weeks’ time, the left-hander will turn 38 but his fitness levels and fielding abilities are among the best. Dravid hasn’t been as remarkable but his 250 runs to go with his inspiring captaincy has made him unavoidable for Royals.  
These, however, are exceptions and not the rule. An 18-year-old Sanju Samson, still far from playing an international and coming from cricketing outpost Kerala, seems more relevant to IPL than the 39-year-old Test and ODI great Ponting. Obviously, it’s not the money that forces these players to make a mockery of themselves. In some cases it’s pure desire to keep the passion going and in others it could be pure ego. Sourav Ganguly lived in perpetual denial that he was past his sell by date. Just to prove a point to the Knight Riders, who didn’t buy him in the 2011 auction, he joined the Pune Warriors but ended up justifying Kolkata’s decision to shun him. The master of timing never got it right when he came to calling time. And alas, he is not the only one to get it wrong!

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