Hardik Rohit
Mumbai Indians skipper Hardik Pandya with former captain Rohit Sharma. Pandya’s replacement of Sharma drew fans’ ire, and three losses in a row have made it worse. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

Calling all Mumbai Indians fans. Give Hardik Pandya a break. He needs your support. Three matches are too early to judge him, and the Indian Premier League 2024 is only 16 games into Season 17. There are 54 matches left before the knockout phase. So be patient.

I understand your feelings after three losses. I also know that it’s difficult to stomach the replacement of Rohit Sharma as captain. After all, he steered Mumbai to their five IPL titles.

Not just that. Sharma continues to lead the Indian teams in all formats, and his astute leadership has received plenty of praise. Yes, I agree he should captain the Mumbai Indians, but the team management decided otherwise. So what can you do? Anger and jeers won’t help.

Why victory alone matters

IPL franchise owners are like the professional football clubs in Europe. They have very little patience. If the managers fail to win the silverware, they get the boot—mostly unceremoniously. There’s no room for sentiment. Fans don’t get a say in it.

In IPL, Mumbai and the Chennai Super Kings have won five times, making them the most successful franchises. But the Reliance Group-owned Mumbai Indians haven’t been at their best in the last three years, where they made the knockouts only once and ended up with the wooden spoon (last place) on one occasion. That doesn’t behove a team of their stature.

That’s why the team management swung into action. Last year, Mumbai appointed chief coach Mahela Jayawardene as the global head of performance, and Mark Boucher replaced the former Sri Lankan captain. However, that didn’t solve the problem, so a change of captain was the next step.

Pandya is the best fit for Mumbai Indians

Replacing Sharma isn’t easy. After all, he’s the India captain and the architect of Mumbai’s five triumphs. But that doesn’t count. Mumbai wants to win again, and the management reckons he can’t do it, although they made the last four last year.

I understand their thought process in moving Jayawardene and Sharma. They want a change of guard and a change of path. They want fresh thinking, new ideas, and a new course. So Sharma had to go.

Why Hardik Pandya? He’s a former Mumbai Indian. Part of the team that won the IPL. He knows a thing or two about the Mumbai dressing room.

More importantly, he won the IPL on his captaincy debut, piloting the Gujarat Titans to victory in their maiden season in 2022. He nearly repeated the feat last year, but Chennai deprived him in the final. His captaincy skills have been burnished in the IPL cauldron, so he’s ideally suited to lead Mumbai out of the doldrums.

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What the owners didn’t expect was the backlash. There were murmurs of dissent from the players, but that was quickly quelled. Fans and their loyalty are different. They didn’t take kindly to the replacement of their winningest captain, the man who led Mumbai for 10 years from 1983. Jeers followed.

It grew shrill when Mumbai lost the first game, ironically to Pandya’s previous team, the Gujarat Titans. It worsened after the second loss before it hit a fever pitch at the Wankhede stadium, the Mumbai Indians’ homeground. When the Rajasthan Royals had them on their mat, the fans had had enough. Even commentator and Mumbaikar Sanjay Manjrekar’s “Behave” command couldn’t douse the anger.

Mumbai supporters, your disappointment is justified, but your haste in writing Pandya off is unwarranted. Remember, Mumbai have always been slow starters. So give Pandya a long rope and allow him to turn the fortunes around. If he can lead Gujarat to the title, Pandya can do the same with Mumbai.

But are Mumbai a good enough team to win the IPL? That’s a question for another day. As for now, cut Pandya some slack.