“Pant has been outstanding, it has been an outstanding season for him” - Ponting. © BCCI

“Pant has been outstanding, it has been an outstanding season for him” – Ponting. © BCCI

Ricky Ponting lauded Delhi Daredevils’ character as they bowed out of IPL 2018 with successive wins over Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians, but bizarrely also pointed to Rishabh Pant’s roaring form for the continued failure of Glenn Maxwell.

Pant, the wicketkeeper-batsman, holds the Orange Cap with 684 runs from 14 innings, at a strike-rate of 173.60. The much-hyped Maxwell, Ponting’s fellow Australian, signed off with a frugal 169 runs from 12 hits, a highest of 47 and a strike-rate of 140.83.

“I wish I knew,” the Delhi head coach said on Sunday (May 21) night of Maxwell’s loss of form, moments after his side dumped Mumbai out of the competition with an 11-run win at the Feroz Shah Kotla in the national capital. “I have spent a lot time with Glenn over the years. It was only a few weeks before this tournament came around that I spent the triangular series with him with the Australian team and did a lot of work with him there. He was actually man of the series in that tournament. So coming over here, he was in good form and having played a little bit of T20 cricket.

“To be honest, the thing that hurt him most is how well Rishabh played,” Ponting went on. “When we went to our auction table, we picked our group of players and I must admit before our first game, I had Glenn Maxwell penciled in as our No. 4 batsman for the tournament. He missed the first game for personal reasons with Aaron Finch’s wedding, which meant that Rishabh batted at No. 4 in game one and played well.”

As it happens, in that first game against Kings XI Punjab, it was Vijay Shankar who batted at No. 4, making a run-a-ball 13. Pant, who came in at No. 5, struck 28 off 13 deliveries with four fours and a six.

Warming to the Maxwell theme, Ponting added, “When Glenn came back into the side, he was at No. 5. That’s probably a position where he hasn’t played all that much and having spoken to him a few times during the tournament, he said he just felt frustrated that he hadn’t been able to have an impact on the result in a lot of the games for his team. Glenn is an outstanding cricketer, there is no doubt about that. He had a disappointing IPL this season. We did stick with him because even though we couldn’t qualify, we were taking every game as if it were a final. We wanted to put the team on the park that we thought gave us the best chance of winning the game. If you look through the overseas batting that we have, we all felt that Glenn Maxwell was going to be the best chance of being a match-winner for us. Even a game like tonight, opening the batting tonight, we knew that he would have to bowl some overs at some stage with the amount of left-handers they had in their side. That is why we persisted as much as we did with him.”

Ponting didn’t hold back as he assessed Pant’s potentially breakthrough season. “He has been outstanding, it has been an outstanding season for him,” the Aussie legend agreed. “He is obviously wearing the Orange Cap right now. It will be nice if he is able to retain that for the remaining games but Kane Williamson as we know is breathing down his throat. It’s great recognition for the personal season that Rishabh’s had but across the board, we needed more even contributions from a few more of our top-order batsmen if we were going to be a threat to challenge for the title this year. Shreyas (Iyer) had a really good season this year, probably over 400 runs (411). He can hold his head up high but we just didn’t get enough consistency from our batting group to be up there with the leading teams in the tournament.”

Delhi endured a major shake-up early in the tournament with Gautam Gambhir stepping down as skipper after six matches and the young Iyer taking charge. Like many, Ponting conceded, Gambhir’s decision had caught him too off guard. “Gautam standing down, I don’t think it had a negative impact on our team. It probably came as a shock to a lot of our players at the time, and even me, it came as a shock that he had made that decision to stand down,” he revealed. “That was, I thought, a really courageous decision for a senior Indian player to make. You don’t see those sort of decisions being made every day. But he stood down for what he believed was for the betterment of the team and that says a lot about him as a human being. That says a lot about his character as well.

“He made way, which gave Prithvi Shaw an opportunity to play. Prithvi is a highly talented young bloke, he has got to work on his running between the wickets but other than that, he is a pretty good young player. Then Shreyas stepped into the captaincy and once again, for a young guy like Shreyas who has probably not done a lot of captaincy in his earlier days, it is a daunting thing to do, to have to captain an IPL team on the biggest stage in front of big crowds everywhere. But I think he has handled that challenge particularly well. He is a tremendous young guy, Shreyas Iyer, he will go a long way in the game, not only with Daredevils but with his Indian career as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some more leadership roles coming his way down the track as well.”

Delhi unleashed Sandeep Lamichhane, the 17-year-old Nepalese leggie, late in the piece and the young lad was most impressive in picking up five big wickets from three outings, at a brilliant economy of 6.83. Ponting outlined the reasons why Delhi hadn’t played him earlier. “He has bowled really well in the last three games. If you look at the start of the tournament and what our starting line-up might have looked like if you put a (Kagiso) Rabada and a Chris Morris into the side with probably a Maxwell, it is pretty hard to fit Sandeep into that starting XI. Obviously Morris played the first 4-5 games before he went home. We mixed and matched with (Liam) Plunkett, (Trent) Boult, (Daniel) Christian, trying to find the right sort of combination that would suit different conditions around the country but we always knew that Sandeep had the skills.

“We have all seen him for the last 8-9 weeks bowling day in, day out. He bowls all day, every day with a smile on his face and just absolutely loves it. It’s great to see guys like him, even Abhishek Sharma over the last few games. We have unearthed a very talented player in Prithvi Shaw as well. We have got some really talented youngsters of which Sandeep is one of them. We are looking forward to him having a really long and successful IPL career, hopefully the whole time here at the Delhi Daredevils.”

Well after they were eliminated from the tournament, Delhi signed off with 30-run and 11-run wins in their own backyard against two sides which, between them, have five IPL titles. “At the end of the day, I am just proud of the way the boys have been able to stick at it. It feels like we have got a bit of a reward in these last two games for all the hard work that we have done earlier in the season,” Ponting pointed out. “We had so many games early in the season that we could have won and there are quite a few games there that we should have won. And we weren’t able to play our best cricket in the most important times of those games. That cost us and we sit here now with five wins and probably two wins from qualification.

“When you look back, there’s probably four or five games which we could have won along the way. But it says a lot about the players in this group to be able to go out on a high, beat two of the best teams as well. Let us not forget that Mumbai were on a great run coming into this game (having won four of their last five) and obviously Chennai in the game against us here, they would have been trying as hard as ever to finish on top and we have been able to beat two of the better teams in the last two games. I am really proud of the boys for sticking at it like that.”