Australia in India 2016-17 March 14, 2017

Kohli the Indian Ricky Ponting?

The Australian team learnt its cricket watching an angry, winning Ricky Ponting lead the side. So did Virat Kohli. There isn't all that great a difference between them
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The restraining hand: Ponting steers Kohli out of trouble in Adelaide in 2012 © Getty Images

The captain was angry and there was no hiding it. He might have been trying to hold it in, to try and get the answers he wanted, but the anger was brimming on the surface. And the umpire was getting the full brunt.

This captain already felt the world was against him, that he was being stopped from his rightful mission by a cheating opposition, that this terrible review system didn't work, and that this match would slip away. This conversation was turning ugly. He probably thought he was as restrained as he could be. But he would not stop, because he was a winner.

The captain here isn't Virat Kohli, it's Ricky Ponting. The thing is, they aren't that much different. And neither are Australia and Kohli.

When they came onto the scene, Ponting and Kohli were a breath of fresh air to countries that already had batting stars and legends. Ponting fought his way into the Australia line-up at a time when even the Australian 2nd XI would have been one of the strongest sides in world cricket. When he batted against Australia for Australia A, he looked like a kid with serious weapons.

It was clear he was a gun against the quick ball and he moved as quickly, when batting, running or fielding, as any Australian before him. Before Ponting, the only star of Australian cricket from Tasmania had been David Boon. Ponting couldn't have been any less like Boon. Ponting was all raw talent and twitch fibres.

That Michael Jordan sense of winning is what matters: If I need to be perfect to win, I'll be perfect. The rest is noise

The early IPLs were about flashy overseas players and local legends, but even then you couldn't ignore Kohli. There were plenty of young Indian players who did well - Rohit Sharma was named the best Under-23 player in IPL 2009 - but with Kohli, it looked like it was on purpose, repeatable and intense.

Both batsmen clocked the limited-overs format well before they were even Test regulars. Ponting spent his first four years in international cricket without getting a permanent place in the Test side. In that time, he scored more than 3000 runs in ODIs and had an average of 40. After his first 18 ODI innings, Kohli averaged over 50. Six years and 56 Tests later, he averages over 50 in the longest format too.

Comparisons, however, are sometimes tough and weird.

Daryl Morey is the general manager of the basketball team Houston Rockets, which plays in the NBA, and has been credited with moving the game into the analytics age. His strategies have been called Moreyball and revolve around changing the way basketball teams play and how they pick new talent.

For years, his recruiters would often try to use a method when explaining potential players. They'd say, this kid is a bit like Stephen Curry, or Tim Duncan. The problem was these were lazy generalisations. When they went to draft players, they realised that what made Duncan Duncan or Curry Curry wasn't what these players could do. The system ultimately fell apart when Morey didn't draft Jeremy Lin, a basketball player now with Brooklyn Nets in the NBA, largely because there was no one to compare Lin to. Morey brought in a rule afterwards that if you were to compare one player to another, they couldn't be of the same race. The comparisons pretty much disappeared.

Ponting's batting was about getting on the front foot, and then putting the back foot on the opposition's throat © Getty Images

This happens in cricket, too. Josh Hazlewood, for instance, is something like the sixth new Glenn McGrath, even though there has never been another McGrath. Hazlewood bowls fuller, moves the ball away more, and isn't as accurate. He simply takes his wickets in another way.

Similarly it would be flimsy to simply talk about Kohli and Ponting as two prodigies who creamed white balls until they worked out the red ones, and then became angry raging captains. In their case, the comparisons go a lot deeper. They bat similarly, and attack at the crease. Their stumps are attacking zones. They play fairly orthodox shots and both dine on quick bowling. Both share a weakness to excellent bowling outside off stump (them and all batsmen ever): Kohli to the fourth-and-fifth-stump line, Ponting to the sixth and seventh. But they also cover their flaws with incredible presence at the crease.

Ponting's batting was about getting on the front foot, and then putting the back foot on the opposition's throat. Is Kohli all that different? Both want the opposition to feel the weight of their talent, their passion, their scary desire to win. Jacques Kallis, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Sachin Tendulkar bat, but Kohli and Ponting dominate, often through their demeanour at the crease.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is that when Ponting was out, he had a sense of disbelief and then got on with it. A Kohli wicket is an emotional blow - it takes him ages to recover from it and walk off the field.

And it all comes down to wanting to be a winner. If there was a player during his years who wanted to win matches more than Ponting, I never saw him play. And right now, Kohli is that guy. The India captain lives through every moment, every single thing that happens on a cricket field seems to be a life-and-death situation to him.

Ponting gave up his vices to get the most out of himself, Kohli has given up seemingly everything from MSG to sugar to do the same

The similarities go further than just on the field. Ponting gave up his vices to get the most out of himself, Kohli has given up seemingly everything from MSG to sugar to do the same.

There is a ruthlessness to them. The ultimate professionals: if they can get an edge, they will take it. That Michael Jordan sense of winning is what matters: If I need to be perfect to win, I'll be perfect. The rest is noise.

It makes them look cold on the outside but their crew sees another side of them, one that we barely see. With Ponting, we saw the flashes of anger, but never saw the person who made Andrew Symonds become the cricketer he should have been. With Kohli, we see the intensity, but we miss the fact he has turned a flawed team into a winning machine at home. That Umesh Yadav has been transformed under his captaincy is just one thing we've seen already. We focus on their tactical flaws, and we forget that because of the kind of players and men they are, they lift up the rest of players. If they are going to do whatever it takes to win, so are their men.

There has always been a thought that Australian players don't like it when other captains stand up to them. They like to make fun of a Mike Brearley or a Jeremy Coney, but put a Sourav Ganguly or an Arjuna Ranatunga in front of them - someone who stands up and mouths off -and they hate it.

Australia have never had a captain like Ranatunga, and realistically, the entire country of Australia has never had anyone like Ganguly. But Kohli is very similar to the Australian players. The arrogance, the work ethic, the professionalism, the inner rage, the sense of fighting for something bigger than just a cricket game.

Kohli wears his intensity on his sleeve © AFP

That Kohli is like them is not exactly why they dislike him. On the 2011-12 tour, a personal sledge aimed at an Australian cricketer had cut very deep. The truth also is, that they don't like him because he's damn good, isn't shy about it, won't stop, and will do whatever he has to do to beat them. Kohli versus Australia will be a constant battle until Kohli or Australia break. Until that time, neither knows how to back down, and neither would even if they knew how.

In the Adelaide Test on that 2011-12 tour, there was an argument between Warner and Kohli that was getting ugly. There were many in that series but this one went on for a bit longer. Kohli was pointing his bat at Warner, Nathan Lyon was getting in his face, Michael Clarke was standing by as it all happened.

Then Ricky Ponting - no longer the young, cocky batsman, or the always aggrieved captain, but the seasoned veteran free of the top job - came over. By this point in his career, he had let go of the anger that had driven him, and was simply playing the game he loved. Ponting grabbed Kohli by the arm and moved him away, and then had a few quick words to settle him down.

In this series, there is no sweet grandpa Ponting to make peace. The Australian team learnt their cricket watching the angry, winning Ponting, and so did Kohli. This series is a fight between two Pontings.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

Comments have now been closed for this article

  •   Deepanjan Datta on March 17, 2017, 7:19 GMT

    Beneath the peppery surface, both Ponting and Kohli share an ambition, a desire to win which merely manifests itself in the outward arrogance. It helps that they both have had their share of wins by the time they were 25 odd, as they grew assured of their skills and their place in the side. The thing is, elite sportspeople aren't all cast the same. Kohli had to endure comparisons with 'modest' greats like Tendulkar, Dravid and all until he trampled all arguments with the weight of his record. And Ponting stood out in a team chock-full of greats, but his own greatness was only accorded when he refused to run away even as they all retired, choosing to reinvent instead. What's often ignored however, is that they also share a deep love, even an under-current of humility for the traditions of the game. And yes, the true test of a leader is in how they separate a 'loss' from a 'defeat'.

  • __PK on March 16, 2017, 13:23 GMT

    People forget that Ponting's reinvention wasn't completely voluntary. He had to hit rock bottom. Maybe Kohli needs to get the bejeezus beaten out of him in a Kings Cross nightclub.

  • cricfan40167260 on March 16, 2017, 11:30 GMT

    Super awesome Jarrod!!! This truly is a Ponting vs. Ponting situation. In every sense, the anger element of the game is something that Aussies' always stood for ( at least from the time I have been watching the game), and this now is a mirror reflection. More often than not, no one likes to see their true reflection and in this case Aussies' are feeling the pinch.

  • Sen_San on March 16, 2017, 5:43 GMT

    As long as winning and scoring continues, all these will look fancy, acceptable and appreciable. The moment they stop or even pause, critics will make use of the same baits as the signs of weaknesses. So coming back will be a lot more difficult, as witnessed in the case of Ponting. It's Virat's choice, if he wants to go in Ponting's way or Sachin's way. Or he can even make his own way by taking the best out of both.

  • Cricinfouser on March 16, 2017, 5:42 GMT

    ANSERAZIM: Kohli has to prove himself outside India? He has already proved himself everywhere but England. Btw, Ponting has never really proved himself in India and yet he is a great batsman.

  • ammaarahmad1999 on March 16, 2017, 4:22 GMT

    My words are written. I once said to this my friend that Kohli can never become like Sachin but he can be India's Pointing. Superb article by Kimber and excellently presented. This India has the potential to become Invincibles and Kohli can be master of it.

  • sunilvaidya on March 16, 2017, 3:33 GMT

    SRAY23 when you say that msd record against top countries eng aus and sa is far behind dada at home and away it is clear that you are saying it without checking up the records...i request you to check how many tests dhoni and dada has captain against these 3 countries home and away and find that indeed dhoni's record is better both at home and away in test and odis than dada's...

  • neurosurgeon on March 16, 2017, 3:30 GMT

    How can you assess skills on pitches that are minefields? Win the toss and win the game. Icc must intervene to improve the standard of pitches in India. This is preposterous to play test cricket on these horrendous surfaces.

  • Muhtasim-us on March 16, 2017, 3:15 GMT

    Well as long as they compare Kohli to Ponting in terms of captaincy. I could do without my best all format batsman becoming Mr. Top Edge Straight-up in the air.

  •   Venkatesh Venkatesh on March 16, 2017, 2:20 GMT

    Very interesting article both of them very good fighters for the team cause are capable of winning any match single handily

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