Hardik Pandya’s captaincy baffling, long way to go from winning over Mumbai Indians loyalists | Cricket

Led twice, lost twice. That’s Hardik Pandya’s record as Mumbai Indians captain.

Mumbai Indians' captain Hardik Pandya(AFP)
Mumbai Indians’ captain Hardik Pandya(AFP)

These are early days in Season 17 of the Indian Premier League, but Pandya is under the spotlight. Indeed, he has been under the spotlight for the last three months, from the time he made the switch to his original franchise from Gujarat Titans, with whom he had a stellar two years as captain, culminating in a title on debut (2022) and a last-ball defeat in the final (2023).

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Pandya’s switch from Gujarat to the franchise which identified, nurtured, honed and bolstered his career was met with hostility in various quarters, not least from fans of both franchises. Mumbai Indians followers were incensed that Rohit Sharma was stripped of the captaincy despite his yeomen service, the Titans supporters felt they were short-changed by Pandya, a son of the Gujarat soil.

To Pandya’s great misfortune, perhaps, his first outing as MI captain was in Ahmedabad, against his previous team. The massive gathering at the Narendra Modi Stadium made no effort to conceal its displeasure, roundly booing the man they had cheered to a fault ten months back in a gripping two-day final against Chennai Super Kings. Pandya, unfazed on the face of it, tried to laugh the reaction away, but it’s impossible that he wasn’t shaken up, if only slightly, that the very people who had rooted vociferously for him not so long ago had traversed the other end of the spectrum at the drop of a hat. Maybe it was extreme, but Sunday night in Ahmedabad was as good an example of franchise loyalty as one could have expected.

Pandya wasn’t under great pressure, especially in his first season as the Titans captain. A new franchise, a new skipper, expectations not sky-high – all this allowed him to ease into the job, with the steadying, guiding, occasionally overkeen hand of Ashish Nehra on his shoulder. Most things Pandya touched at the Titans turned to gold and such was the felicity with which he carried himself and his team that the captaincy of the Indian T20 team was bestowed upon him when Rohit took an international break from the shortest format.

The move to MI came with attendant pulls and pressures. For obvious reasons, it wasn’t a move that went down well with the supporters, still rooting for Rohit, still smarting at the insensitivity with which the joint most successful IPL captain was summarily given the heave-ho. Pandya might have been a hit with the MI loyalists in his extended first stint as player, but as leader and skipper, he had to win them over all over again. On the evidence of the first two matches, one can safely state that he has a long way to go.

Tactically, Pandya hasn’t been at his best. In the first game, for instance, he kept himself back during what appeared to be a regulation run-chase but devolved into a horror show. From requiring 43 in the last five overs with seven wickets in hand, MI somehow went down by five runs, Pandya’s call to come in at No. 7 behind Dewald Brevis and Tim David spectacularly backfiring. Especially with Tilak Varma trying to ‘shield’ David from Rashid Khan deep in the chase, it was baffling that Pandya didn’t take the bull by the horns, him at No. 7 more difficult to explain than taking the new ball ahead of Jasprit Bumrah.

Pandya courted no little success bowling with the new ball for the Titans and Bumrah is plenty more comfortable in T20 cricket bowling with a slightly older ball, so perhaps there still is some merit in bringing the ace pacer as first change. But to not bring him back for a second over on Wednesday night in Hyderabad until the 13th over, by which time Sunrisers Hyderabad had rattled along to 173 for three, was inexplicable. It was a naïve, novice move, and not just tactically. Not even Bumrah, a regular worker of miracles, could effectively staunch the bleeding, though none for 36 from four overs in a 40-over game that produced 523 runs (run-rate 13.075) did Bumrah’s reputation no harm at all.

Life in MI in his second innings has been anything but a bed of roses for Pandya, yet to hit his straps either as all-rounder or as captain/leader. Mumbai are notoriously slow starters – their last win in the opening game of a season came in 2012 – but they can ill afford to wait any longer for their first points. If he isn’t already feeling the pressure, Pandya must. After all, having asked for and got the captaincy, the buck does stop with him.


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