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IPL: The new Pandya-Rohit dynamic may decide MI’s season

In the pre-season media conference, new MI captain Hardik Pandya tries to portray a business-as-usual picture

“He’s got a lot more hair on him than Jacques Kallis,” Mark Boucher joked when Hardik Pandya was compared to the great South African all-rounder. It was the only time in the 45-minute Mumbai Indians’ captain and coach pre-season press meet that the room cracked up.

Rohit Sharma (L) and Hardik Pandya in action.(HT Photo)

Many of the other questions were awkward, even though Pandya said “it wouldn’t be awkward or anything different” that he would, for the first time, be leading a team with Rohit Sharma – still the India captain — in it.

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Till the news of Pandya’s MI homecoming broke last November, he was known as the Surat-born Baroda all-rounder who led Gujarat Titans to back-to-back IPL finals, including a title; and around whose Gujarati identity the new franchise had marketed itself.

With an eye on the future – Rohit is 36 and 2025 will see a mega auction – MI successfully traded back one of their OGs – they had picked Pandya in the 2015 auction for ₹10 lakh. It was one of the most ambitious player trades in IPL history.

But the move hasn’t gone down well with the Indian cricket fan. A demonstration of which has been seen, mostly in the virtual world, so far. An army of Rohit Sharma fans – his Instagram following is three times that of the MI franchise – has been trolling the team and Pandya for what is being perceived as unfair treatment of the India captain who led MI to all their five IPL titles.

From the last IPL, when trade talks are known to have started, the worlds of Rohit and Pandya have seen contrasting fortunes. Rohit rediscovered his touch with the bat, led India to the ODI World Cup final and guided a young Test team to series victory against England. Pandya suffered a freak injury in the World Cup that kept him off-field for five months, during which Rohit was re-appointed

India’s T20 captain for the upcoming World Cup.

“On the backlash bit, to be very honest, we respect the fans…at the same time, we focus on the sport. I control the controllables,” said Pandya. “We are very grateful to fans, the love, fame comes from them. They have every right to say. I respect their opinion.”

Whether this fan backlash spills over into the stadiums they play in is something the MI camp may be nervy about. Curiously enough, MI begin their campaign against Pandya’s ex-team GT in Ahmedabad on March 24. More than how the enormous Ahmedabad stadium would react, Pandya-led MI would be anxious how they will be received by the home fans at the Wankhede Stadium where local boy Rohit is a hero.

MI is a team with a rich assortment of India all-stars. Other than Pandya and Rohit, there’s Ishan Kishan, Suryakumar Yadav, Tilak Varma and Jasprit Bumrah. Perhaps the only franchise which can regularly afford to field only three overseas players in the eleven and use the fourth as Impact Player. Yet, results are heavily contingent on team spirit, not talent alone. It’s believed some

MI players’ broken heart emojis were a reaction to Rohit’s removal as captain.

A lot would depend on how the Pandya-Rohit dynamic plays out on the field. Rohit is yet to make a public statement on losing the MI captaincy. “I have played my whole career under him. I know he will have his hand over my shoulder,” Pandya said.

It will also be important how Boucher, only in his second year as coach, helps navigate the captaincy transition. “I enjoyed working under Rohit last year. It’s great to work under different captains and I am sure Hardik will challenge me, like Rohit did,” Boucher said.

To put a purse together for the Hardik trade, MI had to let go off the highly talented Australia all-rounder Cameron Green, despite his impressive first year. Boucher was hopeful Green’s shoes won’t be too big to fill.


For that, the onus would be on Pandya to raise his all-round game. He confirmed he would drop down the order to play the finisher’s role. “I will be the all-rounder who will try to finish as many games as possible. I will be down there, hitting as many runs as possible…enjoy the position that I have always loved,” he said.

Pandya was able to prove doubters wrong with immediate success at GT. He would have demonstrated his leadership ability beyond doubt if he steered MI to their sixth title, notwithstanding the awkwardness in the buildup.

It would help if Rohit can replicate the blazing form he has shown with India for MI. “If Rohit has a great season, we will be in the dying stages of the season,” said Boucher.


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