MUMBAI: It may be a huge blow for the Mumbai Indians with injured pace spearhead Lasith Malinga virtually being ruled out of the first half of this edition of the IPL, but coach Ricky Ponting says he has adequate replacements even if the Sri Lankan is not available for the entire tournament.
"He's not with the squad now. He's unlikely to take part in the first half of the tournament. If we want to name a replacement we have to do so before the fifth game," said Ponting at a media conference today ahead of MI's lung-opener against new IPL side Rising Pune Supergiants on April 9 here.
"If you look at last season when we were playing our best cricket, Malinga was bowling at his best as well. He's been one of the great performers in world cricket with the new as well as the old ball. He will be definitely missed, but we have more than adequate replacements if he's ruled out," added the Australian, who had clinched two World Cups as captain.
Malinga, who took 24 wickets in 15 matches to spearhead MI's winning campaign last season after the team's initial losing streak, had hurt his knees before the World T20.
Ponting also seemed not too worried about Mumbai Indians' skipper Rohit Sharma's poor form in the WT20 and said he would be in top form over the next few weeks of IPL.
"Rohit is one of the best players in the world. He has shown it over a long period of time. It's very hard to maintain top form. You will have ups and downs. I am sure he will play exceptionally well over the next two months."
He also praised the progress made by Jasprit Bumrah at the international level after missing most of IPL due to injury in 2015.
"The last couple of months I am incredibly pleased with Jasprit Bumrah's improvement. Last season he was coming off an injury lay-off, but now he's stronger than before. What he has done for India over the last couple of months has been fantastic.
Ponting is optimistic about the form of his one-time nemesis Harbhajan Singh, who failed to make India playing XI even once during the WT20.
"We, as coaches, want to improve every single player, whether it is a player who is yet to play an IPL game or a player like Harbhajan who has probably played almost all games in IPL.
"Harbhajan was probably disappointed not to get some games in the World T20. Now he is back again with MI and he's one of our leading bowlers," said Ponting, referring to the off spinner's 18 wickets in 15 games last season and his consistently good show in the earlier editions.
Ponting also hopes his side wins most home games at the Wankhede, which he referred as the team's fortress.
"We love the crowd support we get here. I was there for the World (T20) Cup semifinal and the atmosphere around the ground was amazing. We have a good record at home. We want to make it a fortress.
"Hopefully we can play our best cricket at home. If we can win most of our games at home this season we will be in a good position at the end of this season. We are happy with the squad put together. We have two more days of preparation and training. I am excited about the squad and about the first game," he said.
Ponting is pleased that the big-hitting West Indian all-rounder Kieron Pollard has made a splendid recovery from the injury, which had ruled him out of the Caribbeans' triumphant campaign in the WT20 event.
"Pollard is available from the first game. He took part in the full session yesterday and will do it today too. His recovery has been very, very good."
He also said Lendl Simmons, who batted brilliantly against India in the WT20 semifinals soon after landing in the country, has put behind the euphoria of being a part of the victorious West Indies squad.
"Actually when he first arrived he told me he's put the celebrations out of his system. WT20 is finished and now IPL starts. He played so well in semifinal against India."
Ponting said Jos Butler, wicketkeeper of England team which lost the WT20 final against West Indies in Kolkata, is focused on doing well for the Mumbai Indians.
"It was Butler's first session yesterday. He is focused on doing well for MI as well," said Ponting.
"I did not watch every game in WT20. Watched semifinal and final. Look at what Carlos Brathwaite did. You don't see that often. The two teams that played the final had unbelievable batting depth, till no. 9 or 10."
Ponting, however, ruled out making any attempt to get the India coach's job in the immediate future with team director Ravi Shastri's tenure ending after the WT20 championship.
"I love teaching younger players. (But) It's a matter of time coaching an international team takes up. I have a young family. I travelled around the world as a player. I really enjoy spending quality time with family.
"It's probably unlikely over the next short period of time to consider an international (coaching) job. I will think about it later," said the 41-year-old former batsman, who had scored 27,000 runs in Tests and ODIs combined together.
Ponting also said it will be great if another Hardik Pandya can be unearthed in MI.
"It will be great to unearth someone like Hardik Pandya last year. Nitish Rana had a good domestic season. There's Nathu Singh."
Talking about Australia's poor outing in WT20, Ponting said his country lost out on grabbing key moments in important games against India and New Zealand.
"They have been disappointing in the last two tournaments. On paper they looked as if they would move into the last stages. They did not nail down the crucial moments in the games, including the game against India. There are enough good players but failure to nail those key moments cost them in the end," insisted Ponting.
Brushing aside talks about imminent death of Test cricket in the wake of the T20 wave, Ponting said, "I'm very much a traditionalist. I am a little bit old school. Players will be always be judged on how good a Test player they have been."