Hardik Pandya knows there will be pressure to deliver as captain of Mumbai Indians

Hardik Pandya and Mark Boucher at the Mumbai Indians’ Press Conference

Hardik Pandya and hype go together. He is a big cricketer, no doubting that. Yet, when the 30-year-old maverick takes the field as captain of Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League (IPL), fans and experts will watch him very closely.

Indeed, the 30-year-old all-rounder has had a fantastic last two years in the IPL as captain of Gujarat Titans. To win the trophy in 2022 and finish as runner-up in 2023 to Chennai Super Kings, Pandya’s record is impressive.

Past perfect, will the future be tense? This is the question on the minds of many as Pandya has been handed captaincy of Mumbai Indians. To say that this was surprising would be putting it mildly. It did shock many fans of the world’s most famous T20 league which has grabbed eyeballs since 2008.

Mumbai Indians and Rohit Sharma are well known. After all, the star batter won the IPL trophy five times, a massive record for Mumbai. Just to jog the readers’ memory, it was Pandya who moved to greener pastures in Gujarat Titans, with its headquarters in Ahmedabad. Why Mumbai Indians overlooked Rohit, India’s inspirational captain and rock star of Indian fast bowling Jasprit Bumrah cannot be explained easily.

The focus now shifts to Pandya, who will be commanding senior professionals. He took to leadership at Gujarat Titans with panache. It was, as if, captaincy came to him naturally with coach Ashish Nehra for company with the base being the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.

Pandya is excited to be back in Mumbai. After all, it’s a franchise which has done so well in the IPL in the past. Perhaps, the team management sees in Pandya great leadership skills and a prospect as skipper for the long run.

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In terms of captaincy, Hardik Pandya does have flair and feel. But there is a big question mark over his fitness. He has been through frequent break-downs, with his injury last year in the ICC World Cup (ODI) in India being quite shocking. Pandya has spent a long time in rehab and strengthening.

For a man with 123 IPL matches under his belt, this is Pandya’s 10th year in the tournament. He knows what pressure of expectation is. Pandya also knows, on paper, Mumbai Indians look so good. But then, from potential to performance, maximising it will be his role in this IPL.

That’s easier said than done, since the IPL throws up surprises galore. It may be a wrong comparison, but the way the Mumbai Indians franchise bombed at the box office in the just concluded WPL (Women’s Premier League) means the men’s team has to now deliver. No team owner is happy with below par performances.

The IPL is sport plus business. A top team like Mumbai Indians wants its hands back on the trophy. Pandya has not played much cricket since he was forced out of the World Cup last year. Surely, at a time when there is a big debate over why superstars should not skip the Ranji Trophy, Pandya has surprisingly not been dragged into the debate.

Yes, the Ranji Trophy is red-ball cricket and the IPL is slam-bang, whiz-thud white-ball cricket. Pandya has seen success in it (IPL) as an all-rounder. He recently played in a tournament at the DY Patil Stadium in Mumbai. If that’s the proof he is fully fit, we will have to wait and see.

In a season of comebacks in the IPL, where Delhi Capitals have hyped skipper Rishabh Pant, almost back from the jaws of death, Pandya knows he has to perform. At one point of time, he was considered the automatic captain of India in T20 internationals.

That was the amount of faith which had been placed in him by the BCCI big bosses. Fitness is very important for any leader. Even if the skipper does not score runs or take wickets, he has to be a good leader and a man manager. What Pandya did in Gujarat Titans is past. In the next two months, he has to deliver for Mumbai, his old franchise where he began years ago.

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Pandya is lucky that two men in his team, Rohit and Bumrah, have no ego issues. They will play and perform, deliver their best to skipper Pandya. The IPL is professional cricket. There have been instances in the past, when skippers have become mere players, a case in point, Virat Kohli for RCB.

How Pandya can lead Mumbai Indians will be watched from the first match. It needs to be seen if the IPL this year is played on a home-and-away basis, as the General Elections schedule has been announced. Then again, all this is not important for Pandya. He has to lead and prove he can be the talismanic captain for Mumbai Indians. For all the strong social media presence he has, Pandya will be judged as a captain and player.

Let’s not forget, the Indian team for the ICC T20 World Cup will be selected on form in the IPL. Almost everyone is under the scanner. The bigger picture for Hardik Pandya is to reclaim his captaincy of Team India in the T20 format. And that will not come as a gift, since Rohit will lead India in the T20 World Cup in the USA and the West Indies.

Pressure? Yes, Pandya knows the next two months will test his mettle and how he deals with pressure. Mind and body, both need to be in sync.

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