Hatred for Hardik Pandya shows Indian fans in bad light

Hardik Pandya (Photo: Hardik Pandya Twitter/X)

The first day, first act of Hardik Pandya as Mumbai Indians captain was greeted by a smattering of boos, at the toss. A man who was born and bred in Gujarat, was getting jeered in Ahmedabad. Pandya led Gujarat Titans to the IPL title in 2022 and took the team to the final a year later. But he found himself at the receiving end of a mindless toxicity.

Pandya took the new ball against his erstwhile franchise Titans, at the expense of Jasprit Bumrah, and leaked runs. Boos grew louder. “Why is Bumrah not bowling,” Kevin Pietersen asked on air. “That exactly is my question,” Sunil Gavaskar chipped in. People comfortably forgot that many a time under Rohit Sharma’s captaincy also, Bumrah didn’t straightway operate with the new ball.

In the final overs during Titans’ innings, Pandya sent Rohit to third man, a move that even surprised his predecessor. Rohit is not used to field in the deep and sending the team’s senior-most player to third man was an error of judgment from Pandya. But rather than explaining it from a cricket perspective, a commentator decided to play to the gallery. On Hindi commentary it was said: “Rohit, ab Hardik kaptaan hai, apko jana padega peeche (Rohit, now Hardik is the captain, you have to go…).”

A video clip before the match captured a large number of MI fans outside the Narendra Modi Stadium. They were chanting Rohit’s name. During the game, a video grab from the stands purportedly captured a Pandya fan being manhandled by a group of Rohit fanatics. An online poll from RevSportz had an overwhelming disapproval of Pandya’s captaincy in the first game, with 51 per cent terming it poor and 22 per cent calling it average.

Pandya, at the moment, is hated by both sets of fans. Titans faithful dislike him for leaving the franchise, while their MI counterparts are angry with him for replacing Rohit as captain. But what is Pandya’s fault?

After the last year’s IPL, the MI management had a meeting with Rohit where he was told about the franchise’s decision to bring back Pandya and hand him over the captaincy. The whole thing was done in a transparent way and MI agreed to a Rs 15-crore deal with the all-rounder to complete the transfer.

From Pandya’s point of view also, it was an offer he couldn’t say ‘no’ to. To start with, he was returning to a franchise where he plied his trade for seven years and won three IPL titles. Also, MI, along with Chennai Super Kings, are the biggest franchise in the league, and Pandya was getting the captaincy of a marquee team. Turning down the offer would have been foolhardy and probably suggested a lack of ambition.

From MI’s perspective also, it was smart business. Rohit is 36 years old and not a man for the future. The IPL will have a mega auction in 2025 where teams will build for the future. So MI decided to go with someone who has proven captaincy credentials in the IPL, unlike Bumrah or Suryakumar Yadav, the other two captaincy aspirants in the franchise. That the move has irked the fans is down to the fact that cricket support in India is largely personality-obsessed. That’s why we have ‘Rohitians’ and ‘Viratians’, and anything that upsets the demi-gods is dealt with toxicity.

Apologies for drawing a few football analogies, but when Declan Rice goes back to West Ham after joining Arsenal for £100 million, he is greeted with warmth at his old club. Fans there acknowledge the contributions of their former player and understand his decision, which is a career upgrade.

In other sporting news: 

Only a few weeks ago, Ashley Young came on as a substitute for Everton at Old Trafford in a Premier League game and Manchester United fans put their hands together for a footballer who played for them for nine years, captained the club and won a league title.

Roy Keane and Sir Alex Ferguson parted on the most bitter terms. Can you imagine either being booed at Old Trafford? Any fan who tries that would face consequences.

It begs the question, do Indian fans need to grow up and learn to put things in perspective? Some commentators/former players revel in fuelling controversies and a large number of fans, especially on social media, fall for that.

MI losing their opening game has been given an undertone that it was Pandya’s fault. In the theatre of the absurd it has been forgotten that this team has been a perennial slow starter in the league. Each team will play 18 matches during the league stage and this is just the start, a phase where different combinations and batting orders are expected to be tested.

Indian fans, though, as is evident, hardly care for logic and Pandya unfortunately has become their favourite punching bag. The player who is indispensable for India in white-ball cricket and his franchise has been made to deal with a wave of hate for no fault of his.

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