IPL 2024: Hardik Pandya's X-factor seems to have gone missing | Crickit
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IPL 2024: Hardik Pandya's X-factor seems to have gone missing

By, Mumbai
Apr 15, 2024 02:15 PM IST

More than Hardik Pandya the captain, Mumbai Indians would desperately need the all-rounder known to impose himself on games to rise again.

Runs when it matters, and a bag of wickets and wins and it will all die down, Hardik Pandya would have told himself to overcome any doubts that rose every time he heard jeers from the stands. We are close to the halfway stage of IPL's league phase and Hardik hasn’t left an impact with the bat, his bowling has been well below par, and Mumbai Indians are languishing at 8th in the 10-team points table.

Something's amiss about Hardik Pandya this IPL season. (PTI)
Something's amiss about Hardik Pandya this IPL season. (PTI)

The new MI captain soldiers on, but he does not find himself in a happy place. The shock and awe of his pre-season trade from Gujarat Titans, returning to MI as captain replacing Rohit Sharma, may have subsided; but the fans are giving no love to him.

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The surround sound – MI's loss at home to Chennai Super Kings on Sunday night was their fourth in six games – is no longer about whether Hardik is doing a bad job as captain and player. But it’s more likely that the MI management will ponder over that question, not so much the backlash.

It was a bold call by Hardik to bowl the final over in the showdown with CSK. His only competition for the India T20 all-rounder's spot, Shivam Dube, was batting in top gear and MS Dhoni’s lurking presence, itching to get in at the fall of a wicket, was being flashed on the giant screen, every ball. The other bowling options he had were Akash Madhwal, who had gone for 12.3 runs an over, and Romario Shepherd, who had gone for 16.5/over. Spin wasn’t a serious consideration.

Hardik took on the task. But bowling the final over is not his territory. Certainly not in his current bowling form. Dhoni delivered a knockout punch with three sixes in a row to make it a no contest.

MI requires more bowling support for Jasprit Bumrah. And Hardik’s bowling needs to improve. Six games into this IPL, his bowling economy rate of 12 is the highest he has conceded in any of the eight seasons he has bowled. Hardik’s bowling rhythm is back under scrutiny, the aspect of his all-round abilities that prompted MI not to retain him after 2021.

Bouquets and brickbats come in heaps in high profile jobs, and leading five-time winners MI is one. Even Hardik’s body language has been scrutinised. But the decision-makers would want to reflect on his moves, whether they were tactically sound.

“He was a captain that had a plan from a team meeting that was five hours ago and didn’t want to go to Plan B. How on earth would you not bowl a spinner when your seamers are going for 20,” Kevin Pietersen asked while doing commentary on Star Sports.

While MI did not use spin, to avoid exposing the slow bowlers to the explosive Shivam Dube, even spin-heavy CSK adopted a similar tactic. They picked one spinner and Ravindra Jadeja’s four overs of spin is all that they used. On a Wankhede Stadium with short square boundaries, bowling more spin carried its risk.

What should disappoint MI immensely is that the once-dominant batter Hardik has squandered three opportunities this season. In the opening match against his former team Gujarat Titans, Hardik couldn’t close out the match in the final over against Umesh Yadav.

When Rajasthan Royals’ left-arm pacers Trent Boult and Nandre Burger rocked MI’s top order, Hardik couldn’t steer his team to safety like he often did with GT. Against CSK, Hardik would admit, getting 12-an-over in the final 6 overs on a batting beauty with the in-form Rohit Sharma at the other end and the artillery they had in the shed, it was MI’s match to lose.

"I am fed up with (people) looking to pinpoint individuals,” MI batting coach Kieron Pollard said, coming to Hardik’s defence. “This is an individual that is going to represent the country in less than six weeks, and all are going to cheer him and want him to do well. So high time we try to encourage and stop nitpicking and see if we can get the best out of one of the great all-rounders India has produced. He can bat, bowl and field, and has a X-factor about him.”

But that is the big question. Has Hardik lost that X-factor under the weight of responsibility? Pollard spoke of Hardik’s evolution as a batter while discussing his missing the exuberant shot-making of old. But as someone who had combined with Hardik for so many match-winning partnerships when the heat was on in the finishing overs, Pollard would want to rekindle his captain’s range-hitting powers.

The numbers can tell you only so much. Ask the bowlers if Hardik is the same feared power-hitter now. That’s what MI and the Indian selectors want him to be.

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