Mumbai: With their defence of Indian Premier League (IPL) title getting underway at Wankhede Stadium on Saturday, Mumbai Indians coach Ricky Ponting has his sights set on improving their successful 2015 season.
"We are looking to improve the small areas from last time and be a better team this year. It's all about improving our players and challenge them everyday," Ponting said at the Mumbai Indians press conference.
Ponting, one of the most successful captains in cricket, has been the driving force behind the vastly improved Mumbai Indians ever since he took over as Head Coach ahead of the eight edition of the Indian Premiere League (IPL.)
The effects were immediate - In the 2014 edition of IPL, when the first half of the tournament was played in the United Arab Emirates, MI started disastrously by losing their first five games, However, they managed to turn it around at their home venue, Wankhede Stadium. Thereafter they lost to Chennai Super Kings in the Eliminator. But in the 2015 season, when they lost five out of their first six games, they stormed into the final where they defeated Chennai Super Kings to win the title for the second time.
By his own admission, Ponting revels in the job of a coach. "I am very comfortable in the title of coach, but it is not just about me, I have got a group of staff around me as well and that makes my job easier and our job as a coaching group is to make the captain and players job as easy as possible.
Our job starts almost a week after last year's tournament finished. We started talking straight away about how we can improve our playing squad and start looking around an international players and players. We got all of our squad together and we will make sure that we leave no stone unturned in our preparation," the Head Coach said.
Ponting and MI's efforts paid rich dividends beyond the IPL as well, with the discovery of two of India's upcoming stars - Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah. "I'm incredibly pleased with Bumrah's improvement. Last season he was coming off an injury lay-off and his fitness wasn't what it should've been but now he's stronger than before. What he has done for India over the last couple of months has been fantastic.
"It will be great, like we did last year, to unearth another Hardik Pandya. That's also what I feel my job is as MI coach is, to try and bring out these younger guys as quickly as we can," he said.
Mumbai Indians' domestic strength will be just as interesting this season with several unusual picks during February's auctions such as Krunal Pandya (Hardik's brother), Nathu Singh, Nitish Rana among others.
"It's one of the great challenges as a coaching group -- planning for the auction. You got to look across your whole squad and how you can improve, not only your playing XI but also having certain players in back up positions. We are really happy with the squad we have put together, but having a good squad and playing good cricket are two totally different things so that's our job now," he asserted.
Key to Mumbai's chances in this year's IPL will be the form of key players Harbhajan Singh and captain Rohit Sharma, the former who hardly got any match-time with India during the recent glut of T20 Internationals despite being named in the squad. Rohit too has been going through a bad run of form.
"Rohit is one of the best players in the world. He has shown it over a long period of time. It's very hard to maintain top form. You will have ups and downs. I am sure he will play exceptionally well over the next two months," Ponting said.
"Harbhajan was probably disappointed not to get some games in the World T20. Now he is back again with MI and he's one of our leading bowlers," added Ponting.
Ponting also hopes his side wins most home games at the Wankhede Stadium, which he referred as the team's fortress. "We love the crowd support we get here. I was there for the World (T20) Cup semifinal and the atmosphere around the ground was amazing. We have a good record at home. We want to make it a fortress.
"Hopefully we can play our best cricket at home. If we can win most of our games at home this season we will be in a good position at the end of this season."
Two of Mumbai Indians key players, Lasith Malinga and Keiron Pollard, have been among the injured, but while Pollard has made a good recovery, Malinga, who took 24 wickets in 15 matches, will be unavailable. However, Ponting is confident that even without their strike bowler, the bench strength will deliver.
"He's not with the squad now. He's unlikely to take part in the first half of the tournament. If we want to name a replacement we have to do so before the fifth game. If you look at last season when we were playing our best cricket, Malinga was bowling at his best as well. He's been one of the great performers in world cricket with the new as well as the old ball. He will be definitely missed, but we have more than adequate replacements if he's ruled out," added Ponting.
As committed as he is to the Mumbai Indians job, he is not looking to coach an international side anytime soon. When asked about the possibility of taking over as India's coach, he was quick to deflect.
"I love coaching, I love working with young guys and it's just a great passion of mine. The game is really all I know, it's been my life and it's been in my blood. But whether or not I am ready for an international job is another thing, not in the coaching sense but the amount of time that coaching an international team takes up that will be the biggest hindrance to me. I have a young family so it's probably unlikely to take an international team up in the near future."
"But in the it's nice that people think I am good enough and capable enough to handle an international job," he added with a smile.