IPL: Will the hate wave against Hardik Pandya revive Mumbai Indians?

The unending angst against the allrounder-captain is not going to help the franchise

Mumbai Indians skipper Hardik Pandya (photo: @hardikpandya7/X)
Mumbai Indians skipper Hardik Pandya (photo: @hardikpandya7/X)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The boos at the Wankhede Stadium on Monday, 1 April, as soon as Mumbai Indians skipper Hardik Pandya’s name was called out, caught TV pundit Sanjay Manjrekar so much by surprise that he shouted ‘behave’ on the microphone. The aversion about the new skipper at their bastion showed once again that the Mumbaikars have still not been able to take the move to replace Rohit Sharma in their stride.

Why is it that everyone simply loves to hate Pandya, the man who could well have been captaining India in the T20 World Cup in a few months’ time? The knee-jerk reaction on the part of the Mumbai Paltan fans at the removal of Rohit in November 2023 was understandable – but to carry it to the level where it has reached now is pure hooliganism which one thought was best suited in some pockets of European football fandom.

If the footage of a Pandya fan being beaten up mercilessly by a part of the crowd at the Narendra Modi Stadium last week was appalling, wait till you hear this one – a 63-year-old man was allegedly beaten to death by his friend and his nephew for the ‘crime’ of celebrating the dismissal of the ‘Hitman.’ An unconfirmed report, but one feels such acts could be a reflection of the intolerant society that we have become in recent times.

Let’s face it, there have been precedents of iconic players’ removal in the hire-and-fire world of franchise cricket but none has been subjected to such vile abuse that the Indian allrounder or his wife Natasha have been subjected to. The biggest one of them was possibly releasing the larger-than-life Sourav Ganguly by Kolkata Knight Riders ahead of the 2011 auction and replacing him with Gautam Gambhir – who had gone on to script a glorious phase of the KKR’s journey so far.

Granted that Rohit’s reign, unlike Ganguly’s barren run in the first three years, was a decorated one but then Mumbai Indians took what they call a ‘business decision’ in corporate decision. While all the anger is being heaped on Pandya – with abuses ranging from a chhapri (uncultured) to a dog – the outpouring of hate seems to be a regurgitation from the days of his misogynic chat in a TV talk show, the ostentatious lifestyle that the Pandya brothers like to flaunt to the fact they had been essentially outsiders from Vadodara who flourished in the Maximum City.

The much talked out trade-off between MI and Gujarat Titans saw Pandya making the most of it financially (with unconfirmed figures ranging at around Rs 100 crores), along with a likely captaincy clause, but the management of both had been a party to it. How come no one raises a finger at the MI management and vilifies Pandya for virtually every ills – from bowling in the powerplay to not being able to finish matches and captaincy moves.

For three matches in a row, he had to grin and bear it in the post-match presentations – literally and figuratively. Talk about the third defeat to Rajasthan Royals on Monday night, there was not much he could have done if the top order was left tottering at 20 for four though he tried to push the run rate with a 21-ball 34.    

‘’Results, sometimes it happens sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t think much surprises me anymore. But as a group we believe we can pull off a lot of better things going forward and we just need to be more disciplined and show more courage,’’ said Pandya, trying to put up a brave face.

Pandya-bashing has reached such a stage that not too many are talking about the abject batting failure where Rohit fell for nought to his nemesis Trent Boult. Let’s hope there is some light at the end of the tunnel soon!

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