Mumbai: Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting is very keen to put his best foot forward both as skipper and player for Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League, a tournament in which he took part only for a while in its inaugural edition in 2008.
"Obviously, I am very excited to be back in IPL. I said when I had finished playing last time, hopefully I will be able to come back and play again. The way things have worked out - with my retirement from international cricket and finishing off the domestic season for Tasmania and playing well - have given me the opportunity to be back here," said the Aussie at his first media conference on Sunday.
He said retirement from the hectic international schedule has given him time to concentrate on T20 leagues.
"The reason I did not come back to IPL 2 and 3 was because I had too much international cricket on at that time. And now that I don`t have international cricket, the opportunities for me to play in these domestic tournaments are really opening up.
"I am going to be here for a couple of months and then have a two-month stint at Surrey and another month or five weeks at the Caribbean Premier League as well. Now my whole focus is to make sure that I am the best player and best leader for Mumbai Indians for the next two months.
"Luckily I had the chance to captain Australia for a long time. I have got a really good idea of what makes good teams successful. And they are all the things I will be bringing to the table in Mumbai," said Ponting.
Ponting is very excited to be playing alongside Sachin Tendulkar, against whom he has played many times at the international level.
"To be captain of any franchise is exciting, but to think that I am the captain of Mumbai Indians and I will be playing alongside Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh, some of the guys I have had great battles over the years, as well as some of my Australian team mates and some of the young local Indian talent I have come across in the last couple of days is great.”
"With Mumbai now, we have John Wright, a successful ex-India coach, and Anil Kumble, a successful Indian captain and a very good Indian player and leader. Obviously me coming into the set up, we have put together a really strong leadership group, if you like," said Ponting.
"And if you think of some of the other guys we have around like Sachin and Harbhajan, we have got a lot of experience and lot of skill around the team. I think it is very exciting for the tournament," added the 38-year-old Tasmanian who retired with 27,000 runs in Tests and ODIs.
He also said that the entire team is excited about the opening game against Royal Challengers Bangalore on April 4.
"As far as I am concerned, there is no better franchise to be with and no better team to be with than the Mumbai Indians. The three days that I have been here, there has been a lot of excitement around the boys and around the team, and the way we have trained over the last three days, it has been exciting. It`s fair to say that everyone in our squad is excited about our opening game on fourth.
"I think the biggest challenge so far has been getting the squad of players together. We have got international players playing all around the world and a lot of those guys are coming together a lot late. We fly to Bangalore tonight," said the former Australian skipper.
"I am excited to be around the group again. I think a build up to any series is always a lot of fun but when it is a series and a tournament as big as the IPL it adds a little bit more. The excitement has been high around that group and I am looking forward to start of the tournament," he added.
Even though he has not played IPL, except for a brief while in 2008, Ponting has been following it from whereever he was when the tournament was on.
"Of course I have followed it (IPL). I am one of those people who follow cricket all around the world. It doesn`t matter what series is being played. Whether it is the IPL or the Test series in India or Test series in England, then I am always keeping a very close eye on what is happening."
Ponting was optimistic that this could well be the season when the Mumbai Indians break the jinx of not winning the coveted title.
"Mumbai Indians have a pretty proud tradition in IPL of finishing up the top and being in the semi-finals. We obviously haven`t won the tournament yet, but hopefully this year is our year," he said.
Though he has quit international cricket, Ponting has been playing domestic cricket quite a lot.
"My wife thought that once I retire from international cricket things would start to slow down, but I have actually been playing more. To tell the truth I have been away from home a bit more. I think that just goes to show my love for the game," he remarked.
Ponting said towards the end of his long international career he had to give up T20 as he wanted to concentrate on the other two forms of the game.
"For me as an international cricketer, Test cricket and one-day cricket was what it was all about. I had to make some tough decision towards the end of my international career to not play T20 cricket internationally because I couldn't keep playing all three forms of the game as well as I wanted to.
"I gave up T20 cricket in the short term, but I always knew that at the end of my international career there would be a chance that I would be able to come back and play again. I really enjoyed the Big Bash this year. I have really got into the rhythm of the Twenty20 cricket, which I probably hadn't ever done before."
Ponting is eagerly looking forward to hear the din at the Wankhede Stadium when Tendulkar comes out to bat, not as a member of an opposing team, but as the iconic Indian cricketer's teammate.
"The highlight of coming to Mumbai is that we are always playing against Sachin and the roar the crowd (makes) when Sachin is about to face the first ball is quite deafening and always was. I was always in the opposition team and now I am on his team so it will be a bit more fun for me this time I think."
The Australian felt that T20 cricket has led to a lot of improvisations by batsmen and bowlers.
"The whole game has evolved dramatically. There is no doubt the range of skills batsmen, bowlers and fielders are now showing is vastly different from what it was before T20 cricket started. The amount of slow ball variations we are seeing, the number of unorthodox spin bowlers, guys with different action who bowl different deliveries that have had great impact on T20 tournaments around the world.
"Some of the reverse sweep shots that you see and all those things and just the power hitting are the big things that you see in Twenty 20 cricket now. Well over 300 sixes are hit in every IPL tournament, so there is lot of entertainment and lot of excitement for the fans.
"With the T20 game, you have to have a lot of flexibility around your squad and that is one thing we have spoken about. I would expect every batsman that is picked in our first 11 to be able to bat at any spot because that is what we are going to need at different times through the tournament," he added.