Ponting on the art of coaching

One of Australia’s greatest-ever cricket strategists shares his unique insight on coaching at the elite level

When a young Ricky Ponting took his first steps in international cricket more than two decades ago, Australia was operating under the strict disciplinary regime of legendary coach Bob Simpson.

Fitness, fielding and batting technique were Simpson's areas of specialty, and together with captain Allan Border, the pair ruled with the proverbial iron fist, transforming the men under their command in the process. 

History tells us that the Simpson-Border 'my way or the highway' approach was particularly successful; the pair dragged Australia out of one of its worst eras and, through a remarkable decade of change, won a World Cup, regained the Ashes and the Frank Worrell trophy, and laid the foundation for the dynasty that followed. 

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Throw forward two decades from the end of the Simpson era, and one of his youngest charges, Ponting – now one of the most respected minds in the sport – believes coaching has evolved alongside the society in which it exists. 

It's out with the old, and in with the new. 

In this case, a made-to-order, tailored-approach for every player in any given squad, as opposed to the uniform approach of years gone by. 

Speaking with, Ponting revealed this was very much his strategy during his two seasons in charge of Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League, with whom he won the 2015 title in what was his first senior coaching role.  

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"The art of coaching in the modern game is identifying what each player needs," said Ponting, who was also the stand-in batting coach for Australia's T20I side in February. 

"You can't train everyone the same; you can't expect Kieron Pollard to go to the nets and do one thing, then AB de Villiers go to the nets and do exactly the same thing. 

"So you have to work out what they want, what they need, and try and facilitate that the best you can as a coach. 

"Quite often, the guys that are playing in the IPL are all the best players in the world, so pretty much they've got most things sorted anyway, and as a coach if you can just help them out with a few technical things, or even a way to get them slightly better prepared, then you just let them basically go out and play."

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With the frenetic nature of the contemporary cricket calendar, Ponting's strategy is a logical combination of man management and technical knowhow, designed to cater for players who ply their trade in one of the most individual-oriented team sports there is, while also swapping allegiances between country, state, franchise, county or province regularly throughout each year. 

And with the typical IPL player being exposed to various coaches across different formats and teams, Ponting insists a flexible methodology is a must in order to win support. 

"What I tried to do when I first got there was to sit down with the players and ask how they wanted me to coach them," he explained. 

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"I think that's a really important thing with the modern player – you have to coach them how they want to be coached, because they quite quickly will change away from something if it's not working straight away. That's just what this generation of society does. 

"One, you're trying to get to know your players. Two, you're trying to coach them and help them through. 

"But you also don't want to overload them with too much, and get inside their mind because there's a game every other day. 

"So I found that a little more challenging but when you're there for 10 weeks, you can start quite slowly and build up, and hopefully have the players playing as well as they can towards the back-end of the tournament."

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Ponting's Indians lost their first four matches in their 2015 title-winning season but won five of their next six as the Australian found a team balance that worked. 

It's another area of the T20 game particularly that Ponting believes is crucial if success is to be attained. 

"It's all role specific in the T20 game now – you've just got to pick a side with guys playing certain roles," he said, before expanding on what can be a genuine dilemma for a coach depending on the make-up of his squad. 

"Last year at Mumbai we had a lot of top-order batsmen, so someone like (Black Caps opener) Martin Guptill wasn't playing. 

"We had (West Indian) Lendl Simmons, and Rohit Sharma wanted to open the batting because he was opening for India. 

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"We had (England's) Jos Buttler in the middle-order with (West Indies') Kieron Pollard, and then you look at your overseas fast bowlers as well. 

"That's a good thing to have; if you've got a squad with some really good players who can't get a game, that's what the IPL is all about, having that depth and mixing and matching where conditions suit, and also trying to mix and match your team as far as opposition players are concerned as well.

"At the end of the day, it's a tournament, so it's all about tournament play."

In many ways, Ponting always seemed destined for coaching in some capacity; it's been well-documented that the record-breaking skipper spent the back-end of his international career taking a hands-on approach with his young Test batting group, offering technical advice and training support, even occasionally to the detriment of his own fastidious preparation.

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Similarly, he cited India ODI superstar and Mumbai Indians marquee man Rohit Sharma – considered by many to be an enigmatic figure of sorts due to his disappointing Test returns – as one player he enjoyed working with during his time in India. 

"Rohit's an interesting one," Ponting said. "He's dominated white-ball cricket all around the world for the last 10 years and has never really nailed down Test cricket to his capacity. 

"So (it was about) me getting to know him well, asking him what he wanted me to look for with his batting in the nets, and me just trying to find ways to tinker with things just a little bit to make him that little bit better. 

"They're the sort of challenges you love as a coach, working with the absolute best players, and if by the end of two months you've had some sort of impact on the way that they play in a positive way, that's all you hope for."

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