Ponting backs Kohli's inclusion in India’s T20 World Cup squad
While Kohli struggled for runs during this year’s IPL and hasn't made a century for his country in any format for almost three years, Ponting believes the 33-year-old is worth persisting with at international level.
Speaking with Sanjana Ganesan on The ICC Review, Ponting said the upside for India should they stick with Kohli will be far greater than if they omit the right-hander from their squad for the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia later this year.
Kohli and the fear factor
Ponting, who captained Australia to two World Cup triumphs in 2003 and 2007, said Kohli still had the ability to have a meaningful impact.
"I think if I was an opposition captain or an opposition player, I will be fearing playing an Indian team that has Virat Kohli in it, more than I would be one that doesn’t have him in it," Ponting noted.
"I know there have been some challenges for him, it’s been a difficult time.
"But every great player that I have seen in this game has been through it at some stage, whether that’s a batsman or a bowler, they have all been through it.
"And somehow, the best (players) find a way to rebound and respond, and it’s only a matter of time before Virat does that."
Now or never for the India great
Ponting thinks if India do decide to omit Kohli for the T20 World Cup in Australia then there might be no way back for him.
"If you leave Virat out of the eve of the World Cup, and someone comes in and has a reasonable tournament, it will be hard for Virat to get back in it," Ponting said.
"If I was India, I will keep pushing with him, because I know the upside. If they actually get him back confident and playing as well as he can, that upside is better than most. So I think if I was a captain or a coach around the Indian set up, I will be making life as easy as possible for him to feel as comfortable as possible, and just wait for him to flick the switch and start scoring runs again."
The runs will eventually come for Kohli
Ponting suggested selectors must find a spot for Kohli in India's top-order and commit to leaving the champion batter there for the entirety of the T20 World Cup, with the hope he finds his best form during the knockout stages of the tournament.
"Early in the tournament, for a first-round game, (it’s important to) get him in nice and early, among the runs, and then hopefully by the end of the tournament you’ll have Virat Kohli back at his best," Ponting said.
"That’s the way I would look at it. I wouldn’t think about holding him back at the start of the tournament, with the thought that you might be able to bring him back towards the back end and have him peak. Tournament play isn’t like that.
"You need to work your way into the tournament, get some runs under your belt, and get some confidence and then be playing your best cricket at the back end."
Give Virat the confidence to do what he does best
Ponting believes Kohli's best performances for his country have come when he has been settled both on the field and off the field, and the former Australia skipper thinks India's coaching hierarchy needs to try and instill that belief back in their star player as soon as possible.
"You still got to find the best balance for the team. You can’t just make the team all about one person," Ponting noted.
"They probably should be trying to find new ways to get him back into the form and help him out. That (moving him up the order) quite often comes at the expense of someone else as well, you are moving someone else around trying to find a spot for Virat. He has opened the batting, he’s batted at No.3 in the IPL in the last couple of years and done the same for India.
"Moving him around will make him feel that people are worried about him, and he will be more unsettled.
"I will be going the other way. I’ll be telling him, ‘This is your spot, this is where you’re batting, it’s not going to change. Keep believing in yourself, keep putting in the hard work, keep believing what made you the best player in the world for a number of years – get back to those thoughts and the runs will come’."
What to do with the rest of India's star-studded batting line-up?
Captain Rohit Sharma and talented right-hander KL Rahul are the front-runners to open the batting for India at the T20 World Cup, but there's only so many other spots available should Kohli be chosen to partner them in the top-order.
Ponting has worked closely with Rishabh Pant at Delhi Capitals and is well aware of his strengths, while the former Australia captain thinks veteran all-rounder Dinesh Karthik must also fill a spot in India's middle-order.
"We have seen what Rishabh is capable of in 50-over cricket and I know absolutely what he is capable of in the T20 game," Ponting said.
"Dinesh Karthik has had his best IPL ever just very recently ... and I would be trying to find every way to have both of those guys in my team.
"Rishabh to bat, in that three-four-five range, and have Dinesh and maybe Hardik Pandya ... if you have those guys finishing for you, well that batting line-up looks very, very dangerous.
"Obviously that means someone like (Ishan) Kishan or Surya (Suryakumar Yadav) or (Shreyas) Iyer, someone like that, might miss out and I don't think Surya will miss out given his current form.
"But when you got so much talent picking an Indian team is always going to be difficult and Pant and Karthik would be the two I would pick ahead of Kishan right now."
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