Delhi Capitals coach Ricky Ponting believes that wicketkeeper batsman Rishabh Pant has been shaping up well in the last week and he is expecting another good season from the dasher.

There is, as always, a lot of expectations surrounding Pant who has lost his place in the starting XI of the Indian white-ball side. There is no questioning his talent, but consistency has eluded him in recent past.

“Pant, during the last week, has really turned the corner well and I would expect him to perform as well as he did last year,” Ponting said on Saturday during his team’s pre-season online media conference sitting, alongside skipper Shreyas Iyer.

“I am expecting him to once again have a really big impact on the tournament. We know he is a match-winner and if he can win the same amount of games that he won for us last year, I think that should hold us in good stead.

“I am sure Rishabh will be looking to have a big IPL tournament as he did last year and as he has done for the last couple of years for the Delhi Capitals, but we as a group are more than just about one player,” he added.

The Capitals, who finished third in 2019, will start their campaign against Kings XI Punjab on Sunday.

Asked if there was extra pressure on Pant to do well, Ponting said there is no such thing.

“In DC, we as a coaching group don’t put added pressure on the players. We like to take as much as possible pressure off them. We never expect any such thing from them which they don’’t expect from themselves,” the coach said.

Ponting also said senior batsman Ajinkya Rahane’s inclusion adds “more depth” to the side while hinting at a batting lineup that could be more flexible than last year, when Delhi had middle-order issues.

While the coach didn’t give away much about combinations, he hinted there is a possibility that India’s Test vice-captain may have to wait for his chance in the playing XI considering the explosive top five (Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant, Shimron Hetmyer) that DC possesses. There is in-form Alex Carey also in the mix.

“We really have a balanced side. There is a lot of competition for middle-order slots. Rahane gives us more depth to our batting,” the Australian legend said

“Shikhar had as good a last season as any other opener. Prithvi has been training very well. Shreyas has had his best 12 months for the Indian team. We have Pant, Hetmyer and Alex Carey, which gives us a good mix of left-right combination. We have our bases covered,” Ponting said.

Iyer, on his part, said that Ashwin and Rahane have mixed well within the group and never gave a sense that they are senior players.

“They give that extra sense of confidence. You don’t feel that they are seniors and are willing to help every individual,” said Iyer, who believes that Ashwin will be beneficial for the team, given his idea of the KXIP core team (Chris Gayle, KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal) and the slowish nature of the Dubai track.

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With Dubai hosting 24 games out of the 60, Ponting is sure that the tracks will get slower in the second half of the tournament and spin will become more important factor.

“Conditions might change through the tournament. They have four tracks in Dubai that will host 24 games. I saw a lot of green grass cover on the track and before the game, some of it will be off. I don’t see a lot of spin now but it might become a factor during later part of the tournament,” the three-time ODI World Cup winner said.

Considering the nature of the track, Ponting is confident that replacement left-arm seamer Daniel Sams can be very effective with his slower off-cutters and a pace of 135 to 140 kmph.

“I have watched Daniel Sams for the last three to four years. He has been one of the highest wicket-takers in BBL. He could be effective during the back end of the tournament when pitches will get slower. He has variations and bowls lot of off-cutters. He gives us a left-arm option,” Ponting said.

About celebrations, Iyer said that the players are restricting it to “fist bumps”, something they had been doing during practice games.

While concluding, Ponting said that the saliva ba at least in white ball cricket and that too in T20 won’t be that big deal compared to red ball cricket.

“But it’s about habit. We need to be careful as if you do it multiple times, you can cop hefty fines,” he said.

Ponting said his team will bring their own energy to the field.

“The fact that there is no crowds on the ground, I actually think that probably puts less pressure on the players,” Ponting said in a virtual pre-season press conference from Dubai.

“The less noise and everything there probably creates less pressure,” he said.

“Playing in front of an empty stadium will be different ... but once we start I think it is going to be about our group creating their own atmosphere and own energy on the ground and not expecting the crowds actually in the stadium to lift us up and anything like that.”

However Iyer said the team would be missing the roar of their fans in the stadiums.

“Fans obviously when they are in the stands they give us that boost and the adrenaline subsequently. So we obviously we would be missing them out there in the stadium,” said Iyer.

“The cheer, the roar and the support that we used to get would be missing.”

The IPL, originally scheduled to start in March, was shifted out to UAE due to rising coronavirus cases in India.

All eight IPL teams have been under strict bio-security bubbles and rules laid down by the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

(With AFP and PTI inputs)