Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting has leapt to the defence of under-fire Mahendra Singh Dhoni and has backed him to play a big role in the upcoming ICC Champions Trophy.
The former India skipper has been the subject of constant scrutiny due to his indifferent batting performances in the ongoing Indian Premier League. After managing just 61 runs at a strike-rate of 87.14 in the first five matches of the tournament, the dashing batsman roared back to form with a match-winning unbeaten knock of 61 off just 34 balls against Sunrisers Hyderabad. However, he managed just 30 runs in the next two matches, giving his critics more reasons to point fingers towards him.
But Ponting feels that the widespread criticism is not surprising given Dhoni’s immense success for so long at the highest stage of the game. The most-decorated skipper in the history of Indian cricket, Dhoni led the country to two World Cup titles, Champions Trophy title in addition to leading them to number one spot in Test for the first time in 2009. During that phase, Dhoni also contributed immensely with his bat and is widely considered as one of the best limited-overs batsmen of all time. But his constant struggle with the bat in recent times have made people forget his past contributions and Ponting is not surprised by that.
“I think it’s a downside of having the great success that he’s had over a long period of time,” Ponting told cricket.com.au. “I’ve been there myself and when you start to slide just a little bit, criticism is going to come your way. And to be fair, he probably hasn’t had much negativity come his way over the past 15 or 20 years. So it’ll be really interesting to see how he handles that over the coming weeks.
Citing examples of his former teammates, Ponting tipped the former India skipper to bounce back strongly from his lean phase.
“Things can turn around in this game pretty quickly and one thing I’ve learned in this game with champion players is to never write them off. They always find a way to keep coming back. It happened with (Glenn) McGrath and (Shane) Warne and all those great players that I was lucky enough to play with. He’ll find a way and he’ll win games for his team,” he said.
The batting legend further said that it is up to Dhoni to take a call on his retirement. Praising Dhoni for the way he led one of the most demanding teams in the world, Ponting said:
“I’m pretty sure he’s got quite a thick skin. He’s grown up with unbelievable pressure on him as captain of India for a long time. He’s had some great moments in his career and right now he’s probably not playing at his absolute best, but it’s still there.
“I’m not ever going to tell anyone when it’s time to go or retire. That’s up to the champions to make their own mind up,” the World Cup-winning skipper added.
Ponting also expressed his surprise over Rising Pune Supergiant’s decision to replace Dhoni with Steve Smith as the skipper of the team and even speculated that the 35-year old might retire from the IPL after this season.
“If you think about Dhoni and his age, this might well be his last IPL,” Ponting said. “There’s no basis to me saying that. It just seemed like a strange time to move him on as captain if he wasn’t coming towards the end. Obviously, they’ve made a decision that they think is right for that team and Steve Smith taking over was what the hierarchy and the coaching staff thought was the right thing to do.
Ponting also backed Dhoni to be an important player for India when they go to England to defend their Champions Trophy title. With the England pitches likely to assist the bowlers early on, Ponting believes Dhoni’s calming presence in the middle-order will be very crucial for Virat Kohli’s team.
“I think he can be an important player in that Indian team, especially with his experience,” Ponting said. “Batting in the middle order, he’s someone who can really control an one-day innings. And that might be what you need in England. If the ball does a bit early on, there’s a chance India could lose top-order wickets and you’d need someone in the middle order to guide the ship.”