Rohit Sharma vs Hardik Pandya: Getting to the bottom of the Mumbai Indians captaincy muddle before IPL 2024 | Crickit
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Rohit Sharma vs Hardik Pandya: Getting to the bottom of the Mumbai Indians captaincy muddle before IPL 2024

Mar 19, 2024 02:56 PM IST

When MI kick off their IPL 2024 campaign, it will mark the first instance of an Indian captain (Rohit) playing under someone else (Pandya) on a designated basis

It’s been three months since Mumbai Indians officially announced their captaincy swap, replacing inspirational long-time skipper Rohit Sharma with the younger Hardik Pandya. Once it became clear that Pandya would be traded from Gujarat Titans – whom he steered to the title on their IPL debut in 2022 and to the final the following year – to the five-time champions, no one was in any doubt that Pandya would take over the reins from India’s all-format captain.

File image of Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya(AFP)
File image of Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya(AFP)

It's a transition that hasn’t gone down too well with the fans, and perhaps with Rohit himself, though to his great credit, he has maintained a dignified silence. More than the change itself, it’s the manner in which Rohit was displaced that has incensed his vast legion of supporters, whose ire has been directed both at the franchise and its head coach Mark Boucher, as well as (unfairly?) at Pandya.

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When MI kick off their campaign, interestingly enough in Ahmedabad against Pandya’s previous franchise, it will mark the first instance of an Indian captain playing under someone else on a designated basis. Rationally speaking, that shouldn’t affect the fortunes of the team because, as the players are keen to point out at every opportunity, they are all ‘professionals’. But there are bound to be simmering undercurrents; the maturity with which all concerned navigate these troubled waters will have a significant bearing on the kind of season Mumbai enjoy over the next couple of months.

Pandya hasn’t played any competitive cricket from the third week of October, when he injured his ankle during a World Cup game against Bangladesh in Pune. His only appearances have been for his employers in the DY Patil T20 tournament in Mumbai. By his own admission, he has been bowling-fit since January and will therefore fulfil his obligations as the star all-rounder of the side, but it is how he carries Rohit with him that will be of far greater interest.

On Monday, Pandya was gung-ho about his relationship with Rohit, insisting that he will have the older man’s ‘hand on my shoulder’. That may not be far from the truth, actually. For all the angst he might nurture – maybe he doesn’t at all? – Rohit has shown himself to be a true team man and it’s hard to see him veering from that natural trait. His grouse, if any, will not be directed at Pandya. If the franchise pursued the prodigal son and was intent on reacquiring his services before the next big auction, Pandya was perfectly within his rights to insist that his return to his original franchise must be accompanied by the captaincy suffix. After all, Pandya hasn’t just been a successful IPL captain, he has also led India in white-ball cricket with aplomb and might have been the front-runner for that job at this summer’s T20 World Cup had he not picked up the ankle injury in October.

Rohit’s disappointment must stem from being relieved of the responsibility almost unilaterally, given that he had taken over a struggling outfit mid-season more than a decade back, in 2013, and masterminded a stirring revival that netted them their first title. It was the first of five glorious campaigns with the Rohit stamp of leadership, authority, tactical acumen and exceptional man-management all too apparent. The seamlessness with which the various pieces of the puzzle fell in place was no accidental development. Apart from spearheading title runs, Rohit also played a significant role in the unearthing and nurturing of special talents, not least Jasprit Bumrah and Pandya himself. If he thinks he deserves better than just a token ‘thank you’, who can really blame him?

From the franchise’s point of view, however, this change was inevitable. True, it could have been handled with greater sensitivity, given Rohit’s pedigree, stature and standing but in franchise/club sport, there has seldom been room for sentimentality. Rohit will be 37 in six weeks’ time, Pandya at 30 obviously has a lot more cricket in him if he can steer clear of the various injuries that have doggedly chased him for years. As much as the sport itself, the IPL is also about brand-building and in Pandya, MI see the ideal vehicle around which they can base their charge for the immediate future. From a cricketing and marketing standpoint, their logic is flawless. Often, though, it's the manner of implementation that leaves a lot to be desired.

There are no hatchets to be buried, no conspiracy theories to address. The developments of the last three months are unlikely to drive a wedge between the Indian captain and the new MI leader, significant considering how mutually interdependent the duo will be for country and franchise.

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