Hardik Pandya's return to Mumbai Indians makes zero cricketing sense but has the recipe to change Indian cricket forever
Hardik Pandya's return to Mumbai Indians has everything possible to trigger a shift in Indian cricket.
Hardik Pandya is back where it all began for him eight years ago. His 'ghar wapasi' to Mumbai Indians, however, was anything but simple. It kept the Indian cricket fans hooked for about three days with twists and turns that would put even the best of thrillers to shame before MI finally made the announcement on Monday. Hardik returned to MI after captaining Gujarat Titans for two seasons. This was a landmark move in the history of IPL trading. It's the equivalent of a Mo Salah, in his prime, getting traded to Manchester United after leading Liverpool to the Premier League title with a superb performance. Or perhaps even bigger...
"I am back. Rohit, Bumrah, Surya, Ishan, Polly (Pollard), Malinga. Come on let's begin. Obviously, the feeling of coming back to Mumbai is very special for a lot of reasons. How my cricketing journey started in 2015 with MI, them noticing me in 2013...when I look back...how my span of 10 years has been something very special," said Hardik Pandya in a video posted on X.
No doubt there is a certain amount of emotion involved in this trade. Correction. There is ONLY emotion and very little cricketing sense in this trade. At least, as far as Pandya himself and GT are concerned.
Also Read: How Hardik Pandya returned to Mumbai Indians after Gujarat Titans retained Rohit's deputy for IPL 2024
First things first, let's make this clear that a franchise cannot stop an outgoing player. If Pandya had an offer from MI, there was no way GT could have stopped him. They, at best, could have come up with as lucrative a deal as possible for themselves - which they have. Once MI and Hardik reached a consensus there was no way they could have stopped this transfer even if they wanted to. Think of it like an employee submitting a resignation to go to another company. His current employer can offer a better deal or try to convince him to stay but if nothing works, they will have to release him. So blaming GT, here, makes as much sense as blaming the hand for overeating.
Now, let's take a look at the different dynamics of Hardik's trade to MI and why this can change Indian cricket forever despite making zero cricketing sense.
Why would Hardik go from GT captain to third-best at MI?
One of the major reasons behind Hardik's elevation as India's unofficial T20I skipper was his success as a leader with GT. After being released by MI ahead of the mega auctions before IPL 2022, Hardik was taken as a draft pick by GT. They built a team around him. And he delivered. Both as a player and as captain, leading them to the IPL title in the first attempt. He was the Player of the Match in the final. He scored 487 runs at a strike rate of 131 and picked up 8 wickets with the ball despite not bowling for more than half the season. He was equally good next year and so were GT. They came second-best against Chennai Super Kings in the IPL 2023 final after finishing the league stage as table toppers. There was no way GT were even thinking about letting Hardik go even in their wildest of dreams.
And Hardik? He was leading a new franchise into IPL history with two dominating seasons. He was primo-supremo of GT. He was their poster boy. Will MI be able to replicate the same for him? No. They have Rohit Sharma as skipper and the world's No.1 T20I batter Suryakumar Yadav in the squad. Hardik won't be the face of the team. In a best-possible scenario, he would be the third and that is not even taking Jasprit Bumrah and Ishan Kishan into consideration.
That is where the second point comes into play.
Has Rohit given any indication to MI?
There is no doubt in anybody's mind that the World Cup final loss to Australia was the biggest heartbreak of Indian cricket in the last decade. While Virat Kohli hid his emotions behind the cap, Rohit Sharma couldn't. Tears were flowing as he was walking back to the pavilion. He had given it his all, both as a player and as captain. It was perhaps his last chance to lay hands on an ICC trophy. Was the heartbreak big enough to convince Rohit to take a drastic decision? The list of MI's retained players states Rohit as their captain but there might be an underlining story. Did Rohit give an early indication to MI about his future in the IPL? Otherwise, why would they try to join the South Pole with the North to get Hardik on board? These are just desperate attempts to find logic in Hardik's move. If he hasn't been promised captaincy in this season or the next one at worst, things just don't add up. And he can only get captaincy if Rohit decides to move on. And if Rohit is not going to play the IPL, what are the chances of him continuing to play international cricket?
What will Hardik's role be in MI?
Let's brush aside the captaincy fantasies for a moment and stay in the present. There is no better all-rounder than Hardik in India. Even with the impact rule, Hardik is a gold commodity. His presence adds balance to any side and makes a strong side stronger. To get Hardik, MI have released their Australian all-rounder Cameron Green. What this means is that they now won't have to make a choice between Tim David and Dewald Brevis. They can both be in the XI if they want to and have the best possible balance with Hardik's return.
Hardik's transfer the ice-breaker for IPL's football pathway?
The drama and the tension that Hardik's transfer created was a clear-cut giveaway that trades like these won't be the last. In fact, it marks the beginning of another tectonic shift in IPL, a league that has changed the landscape of not only Indian cricket but the world's in more ways than one. The retention deadline and the trade window have existed in the IPL rulebooks for ages but never before had two franchises used this to the extent MI have.
That the retention deadline and trade or transfer window are two different things, came to light only because of Hardik's transfer. He was named in GT's retained player's list as the necessary paperwork couldn't be completed before the deadline. But a day later, both GT and MI confirmed that Hardik was traded. This is a fairly regular scenario in football where clubs jostle to get a transfer at the last minute. With Hardik's big coup showing the way and the mega auction out of the way, expect more such transfers in future where the transfer window garners as much attention if not more as the auction day.
Shubman Gill the byproduct, stepping stone to India captaincy?
Shubman Gill being appointed as captain of an IPL team would have happened sooner or later. Hardik's mega transfer only accelerated it. That GT picked Gill, 23, as their next captain over the much-experienced Kane Williamson and Rashid Khan speaks volumes about the trust the franchise has in the opener. Like Hardik, this could be Gill's watershed moment too. If he can prove himself as a captain at GT, it will open the doors for staking a claim at India captaincy in the future.
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