IPL: Can the poor Rohit-Hardik vibes spoil the Mumbai Indians campaign?

The fissures are showing as the India captain refuses to come out of a sulking mode

Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya during the IPL match (photo courtesy: BCCI)
Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya during the IPL match (photo courtesy: BCCI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The six-run defeat for Mumbai Indians on Sunday, 25 March, may not be as worrying for the five-time champions for it’s the 12th year in a row that they have failed to win the IPL opener now. Rather, it’s the uncomfortable vibes between Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya that can become a matter of concern for the team management before it gets out of hand.

A video of an incident during the last over of Gujarat Titans innings, when new captain Pandya could be seen directing Rohit to move to long on and the latter is apparently caught by surprise a little, has gone viral. The former leader, who had been almost a permanent fixture in the 30-yard circle all these years so that he could talk to the bowlers, was seen confirming with Pandya if he was being actually put in the deep.

 To be fair on Pandya, field placements are a captain’s call but given the circumstances, the gesture also underlined the change of guard at the Mumbai Paltan under somewhat controversial circumstances at the end of 2023. No surprises, it was fodder for the media – along with another clip when after the match – the allrounder was seen cozying upto the ‘Hitman’ by trying to hug him but the former was in no mood for such an overt show of camaraderie.

The ripples of the decision of the team ownership for a change at the helm has not clearly died down and Rohit, the India captain, seems to be in no mood to play along the lines that all is well within the team. There was another incident during the match when in the middle of a huddle between Rohit, Jasprit Bumrah and Pandya, the captain seeming broke off and walked away – raising doubts as to whether he actually wanted any inputs from their most successful skipper.

IPL 2024 full schedule
IPL 2024 full schedule
(photo courtesy: BCCI)

Much as Pandya tried to brush off the narrow loss by saying there were still 13 matches to go, he clearly realises the difference in the level of pressure in leading a franchise like MI and Gujarat Titans. Each of his moves will now be dissected – from not starting the powerplay with their pace warhead Jasprit Bumrah or sending Tim David ahead of himself when Rashid Khan was applying the brakes on them in the middle overs.

 The art of T20 captaincy, however, is a lot about thinking on the feet where a gamble – should it work – is deemed a masterstroke one day if it succeeds but is under the scanner if it doesn’t. Pandya, who had been a part of the IPL ecosystem for close to a decade now, is mentally aware of what to expect and the only way for him and head coach Matthew Boucher will be to hit the winning ways to sway the fans’ mood.

Unfortunately for them, it seems that the team owners have not really bothered to soothe Rohit’s ruffled egos and neither were the Pandya-Boucher duo trained to troubleshoot during the most obvious media queries on the change in leadership. It resulted in an awkward moment during their recent pre-event media conference where the South African put the microphone up to respond to the query but then shook his head and chose to stay tight-lipped. Sitting next to him, the skipper also looked awkward – betraying how ill-prepared they were.

 There is no doubt that deep down, Rohit is feeling hard done by the move for which he was clearly not prepared.  The change in leadership was announced after 19 December mini auction, where the teams had spent their purse - leaving the veteran with not much choice but to stay on for what could be his final year with the MI family.

While no one can predict what the future holds, the team ownership will do well to be a little more proactive in handling a potential crisis. There are enough precedents around on how one can be forward thinking without being abrasive – look at Chennai Super Kings!

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