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Captain Pandya: In search of a sounding board

Source: PTI
March 28, 2024 17:56 IST
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IMAGE: Hardik Pandya’s captaincy has gotten off to an ominous start with Mumbai Indians opening their campaign with two straight losses. Photograph: BCCI

It's just two games into the tournament but Hardik Pandya already seems to have loads to worry about in his second stint with Mumbai Indians, the leadership part not quite falling in place thus far.

The exuberant all-rounder, arguably one of the biggest match-winners in the current national set-up, has been, to put it mildly, struggling in the IPL despite being back in the team that shaped him, the one he considers his home.


It's been anything but homely ever since Pandya was named captain, replacing the much-loved Rohit Sharma.

The results have only made matters worse. Two matches, two losses, some baffling tactics, his own form not being the brightest spot and Pandya has his back against the wall within the first week of the tournament.

There is no imminent threat to the 30-year-old's captaincy as the MI owners, after bringing him on board in IPL's biggest one way transfer, would not want to take any decision in haste.

After all, MI have always been slow starters, who take a while to find their rhythm, and it would be a bit presumptive to dismiss Pandya this early in the tournament given that he is, after all, leading a five-time champion side.

But a team that is so desperate for success after three barren seasons perhaps cannot also look away from the fact that Pandya is making mistakes and he doesn't seem to have a sounding board for course correction.

He had a solid one during his time as Gujarat Titans skipper when Ashish Nehra would always be in his ears.

"I didn't try to convince Hardik to stay back," Nehra had said with a dead pan expression in Ahmedabad in the pre-season press conference when Shubman Gill formally took charge as captain.

Nehra is widely seen as the back-room strategist, the one who actually calls the shot through the captain.

He is often seen pacing along the boundary line like an overzealous football manager, trying to grab the attention of his captain and players, and shouting down instructions when he gets it.

"It was an open secret in Gujarat Titans camp that Ashu (that's how old teammates address Nehra) was the strategist and Hardik was the executor," a former India teammate, who has played with Nehra, tried to dissect one of the most interesting characters in Indian cricket.

"Hardik was good at implementing Ashu's vision. Ashu is more of a football manager in the garb of a cricket coach. He is constantly hovering around the boundary line with some advice. He believes, if a skipper is willing to commit, he can prepare the recipe for success.

"Now, the same Ashu worked for RCB with Virat Kohli but it didn't work. Shubman Gill is also a new skipper, who like Hardik, needs a mentor at the start of his leadership journey and who better than Ashu," the notable player of yesteryears said.

So, leading Gujarat to the title was a relatively less complicated task for Pandya but MI is a different beast where there are multiple points of leadership.

For Pandya, return to Mumbai has been like coming from a nuclear family to a joint set-up, where one needs to adjust with queries, demands and suggestions of a number of people.

While a big think-tank helps to close ranks off the field when the campaign is going haywire but on field, no one quite knows who to make eye contact with in the dug-out.

It would have helped when Pandya made some rather baffling calls like the one to let Tim David, who finds it difficult to hit when pace is taken off deliveries, to go ahead of him in the match against GT.

And then none can decipher just why he delayed Jasprit Bumrah's introduction for three overs when SRH batters went on a rampage on Wednesday night.

The argument can be that Pandya wanted to save Bumrah for Heinrich Klaasen but the South African was already set by the time Bumrah was brought into the attack.

To be fair to Pandya, not having an enforcer like Suryakumar Yadav, who is injured, at number three and missing two international bowlers in Dilshan Madushanka and Jason Behrendorff have affected the team's balance.

But what has baffled everyone is Pandya's own batting approach.

In the years 2015, 17, 19 and 20, the four editions when he won the IPL with MI, Pandya's strike rates were 180.64, 156.25, 191.42 and 178.98 respectively.

He would come at the back-end and traumatise bowlers with his aggressive strokes.

But moment he became Gujarat Titans skipper, his strike-rate dropped to 131.27 and 136.76 in two seasons.

During the first season (2022), when his team won, David Miller and Rahul Tewatia were finishing games and last season, Gill alone did the heavy lifting with 890 runs in 2023.

But in the MI line-up, comprising the normally inconsistent Ishan Kishan, a very raw Naman Dhir and the blow-hot-blow-cold Tim David, pandya cannot afford to be a Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who has enough resources to come in at No.8 if need be.

For starters, he needs to lead the way with performances which win the dressing room.

The seniors Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Yadav, as and when he is back, need to be invested in his leadership philosophy.

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