Mumbai Indians coach John Wright, Captain Ricky Ponting and Anil Kumble watch the practice match being played at the Wankhade stadium in Mumbai. PTI Photo/Shirish Shete
It's been five years since an ill-tempered Test in January 2008 threatened to disrupt cricketing relations between India and Australia.
In the second Test at Sydney, Andrew Symonds accused Harbhajan Singh of racist abuse. That incident — now referred to as 'Monkeygate' — left players on both sides in a confrontational mood, with Ricky Ponting, the then Australia captain, demanding action against Harbhajan.
The spinner was initially banned for three Tests, but the decision was overturned after skipper Anil Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar came to the defence of their teammate.
Much water has flowed under the bridge since that ill-fated tour. The Indian Premier League was born later that year and players from across continents started sharing dressing rooms.
As luck would have it, Ponting will not just be sharing the dressing room with Harbhajan and Tendulkar, his Mumbai Indians teammates, for the next two months, but will also captain them.
“We are all friends for the next few months, we are one… Mumbai Indians are one as a unit,” said Ponting, in his first interaction since joining the camp.
Here for each other
“That’s one thing I have made clear to the guys. Sachin and Harbhajan have not been around the team yet, but I plan to talk to them as well, we are one. We are here to play to the best of our abilities, and play for each other,” said Ponting.
Ponting, who bid adieu to a glorious international career in December last year, said playing for Mumbai Indians was an “exciting prospect” of his cricketing career.
“It's really exciting to be leading a team like Mumbai Indians, captaining someone like Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh, who I have had great battles with over the years. It's really exciting to be around such players, and I am looking forward to the start of the tournament,” he said.
For Ponting — arguably one of world's most successful skippers — leading players from different nationalities in foreign conditions would be a unique challenge. “I have had a chance to captain Tasmania and have captained Australia over a long period of time. It has given me an idea of what it takes to make good teams successful, and those are (the) things I will be bringing to the table for Mumbai.
“The reason I did not play in IPL2 and 3 was because I was playing all three formats and it wasn't possible to do all three. I am here for the next two months and my entire focus is to do well, both as a player and as a leader,” said Ponting, who had donned the Kolkata Knight Riders jersey in the inaugural IPL.
Since his international retirement, Ponting has appeared in Big Bash, and after the IPL, he is set for a two-month stint at Surrey. From there, he will travel to the West Indies for the Caribbean Premier League.
“I always wanted to come back into the IPL. I have said before that after finishing my international career I would like to return to the IPL. And, there could have been no better team than the Mumbai Indians,” said the 38-year-old. What augurs well for the Mumbai Indians is that Ponting has been in tremendous form of late, emerging the highest scorer in Australia's domestic competition.
And now coming into the IPL, Ponting would hope to play with the same flourish.