The Sunday Leader

Ian Pont A Long Shot To Fill Ford’s Shoes?

By Richard Browne

As the merry go round of Sri Lankan coaches looks set to continue after Graham Ford announced that he wants to step down due to family reasons and the prospect of a more settled existence in south London, coaching the English financial powerhouse Surrey, who are having a horrible season, there is a left field option in the guise of one of the most diverse sportsmen of the modern era- Ian Leslie Pont.
Pont played the majority of his professional cricket for Essex in the 1980’s as a hulking fast bowler who could hit a long ball. He never reached the heights his undoubted talent suggested, but this barely touches the sides of a man whose multi sporting talents bare comparison with the great C.B Fry.
Fry around the turn of the last century managed to be one of the leading batsmen of his day, play football for England, claim the world long jump record, ran a navy training school, was a renowned Classical scholar and was offered the throne of Albania, in the murky days that followed WW1.
Pont is unlikely to be offered the throne of Albania, in an age where monarchy is struggling for relevance. His sporting prowess though is by any standards though impressive.
He has the second longest recorded cricket throw of all time, a staggering 138 yards. In 1987, Pont had trials with six Major League Baseball clubs as a pitcher including New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers. Recording speeds of around 100 mph, he gained a one month’s extended trial with the Philadelphia Phillies. At spring training, he was a starting pitcher for the Phillies in one exhibition game, becoming the first, modern-day professional cricketer to play in a professional baseball game.
He maintained an interest in the game in the UK playing for national champions Enfield Spartans in the British Baseball Federation(BBF) League, and was selected to play for Great Britain as part of the nation’s attempted qualification for the Olympics. He was unable to attend due to cricket commitments but did spend one winter in Durban, South Africa and one in Campbelltown, Australia playing local Major League baseball alongside his cricket career.
Aside from cricket and baseball, Pont briefly joined Thurrock Athletics Club where he took up the javelin and had basic lessons in technique. It became apparent he had an aptitude and within just six weeks he had thrown the then Olympic qualifying standard of 72m. British Olympic Javelin Coach, Margaret Whitbread, mother of Olympic Gold medallist Fatima, saw Pont throw and commented, “he has the most natural throwing arm this side of the Iron Curtain”. Due to Pont’s contract with cricket he never pursued the javelin when many felt he was destined to become a rival to Great Britain star, Steve Backley.
Since retiring from professional cricket Pont has run a clothing business, supplying the replica tops for the 1992 World Cup and working as a broadcaster. Cricket coaching and specifically fast bowling coaching though has taken up the majority of his time and it here along with his diverse life and sporting experiences that he could make a justifiable pitch for taking over the Lankan national team.
Whatever way you look at it, Sri Lanka is struggling to produce fast bowlers of durability and quality. A host of former batsmen have in quickish succession sat the helm of the Sri Lankan cricket and there is a sound argument for putting a man who understands the demands and the mechanics of fast bowling at the top.
Pont has a proven track record in the subcontinent, having been coach of the twice successfulDhakaGladiators in the BPL and shown he has the presence to lead big names like Gayle and Dilshan.
More poignantly his stint with the Bangladesh national team as their bowling coach coincided with the Tigers most impressive run in the international game, when they demolished New Zealand 4-0 inan ODI series, on the back of an outstanding effort from their seamers.
Pont has also run and continues to run the very successful Mavericks Cricket Academy as well as having published numerous ground breaking books on the mechanics of fastbowling.
As a man he is personable and relaxed, but fiercely passionate about fast bowling and cricket. It is true that he does not have the track record of the normal suspects whose names crop up when international coaching vacancies come to the fore, but he has ample life and sporting experience to fall back upon and as is evident in his book is an innovative thinker on the game rather than a follower of trends.
Pont is not a man to bite his tongue. A twitter posting on Thursday ‘Some cricket committee members have their fingers in so many pies, they have pastry crust in their knuckles’, was directed at English county chairmen, it could of course apply to administrators in other parts of the cricketing world.
Sri Lankan cricket needs a strong figure head who will highlight the fairly obvious problems that continue to impeded the game in Sri Lanka. Pont a big man in every sense is the kind of character who lives and dies by the sword. He may ruffle too many feather’s, but taking a long shot and admitting that fast bowling is the aspect of the game that the national team need to focus on could be just the kind of out of the box thinking that saw Sri Lanka’s initial rising from minnows to top table in the first place.

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