Hardik Pandya
Mumbai Indians captain Hardik Pandya in action against the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League match in Mumbai on April 14, 2024. Pandya must overcome the disappointment over the loss to lead Mumbai to a place in the last four. Image Credit: AFP

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s three consecutive sixes in his four-ball 20 unravelled the Mumbai Indians’ challenge on Sunday. Even Rohit Sharma’s unbeaten century couldn’t help them beat the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League.

Dhoni’s 20 runs, which came off Mumbai captain Hardik Pandya’s bowling, were Chennai’s margin of victory. So, if they were dot balls, Mumbai could have won!

No. That’s skewed thinking. Cricket doesn’t work like that. Each passage of play seamlessly blends into the other to become the whole. Those 20 runs from the last four deliveries of the CSK innings were an extension of the innings so well-orchestrated by their captain Ruturaj Gaikwad in the company of Shivam Dube.

Where did it go wrong for Mumbai Indians?

The three sixes shattered Pandya, who never recovered his poise. Sitting in the dugout beside head coach Mark Boucher and batting coach Keiron Pollard, Pandya cut a forlorn figure while Sharma and Ishan Kishan launched a blistering chase.

Mumbai’s pursuit of 206 was stymied by Matheesha Pathirana’s four timely strikes. Chennai won the clash of the five-time winners at the Wankhede Stadium, the Mumbai Indians’ stomping ground, and sent a stern warning to their rivals.

Where did it go all wrong for Mumbai? They recovered from the pathetic start of three losses to win the next two. The last win was an annihilation of the Royal Challengers Bengaluru, with all the top batters blazing away.

Pandya’s captaincy under fire

If that signalled Mumbai’s return to form and made them genuine title contenders, Chennai swiftly snuffed out those hopes. For a team struggling with a new captain, it is a major setback for Mumbai. Whatever gains Pandya and his team made from the RCB match evaporated, although the jeers have died down.

Cricket experts were unanimous in their criticism of Pandya’s captaincy. His bowling changes against Chennai came under fire, especially the short shrift given to spinners on a day when most pacemen were put to the sword. Only Jasprit Bumrah and Gerald Coetzee came away with decent figures.

His poor captaincy and expensive final over undid all the goodwill earned from the two wins, which helped win back the Mumbai fans who were miffed at Pandya for replacing Sharma as Mumbai captain. The barracking from the stands had stopped, and there were muted cries backing him when he came to bat. I hope the Mumbai Paltans (the fans) continue their support of Pandya.

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Everyone makes mistakes. Pandya is not a bad captain. After all, he had steered the Gujarat Titans to two consecutive finals, including a title win on debut. But that came with a different set of players who supported him well.

The Mumbai scenario is different. Replacing Sharma at the helm hasn’t gone down well with the fans, and he’s had a hard time leading the team. The early losses didn’t help. His form too hasn’t been great. But Pandya is an excellent cricketer with a firm head screwed on his shoulders. He will overcome the slump. Once the pain and loss to Chennai fades, Pandya will return to his ebullient self.

Mumbai isn’t a bad team. It takes a strong set of batters to chase a total of over 200 so well, but their bowling is suspect, and Chennai’s batters provided plenty of evidence. Mumbai may not win their sixth title, but they are good enough to make the last four.

For that, they have to believe in Pandya.