Litmus Test for MI Fans as the IPL caravan moves to Wankhede

Rohit Sharma and Yashasvi Jaiswal
Rohit Sharma and Yashasvi Jaiswal (PC: MI/X)

Seldom do we witness a pre-game discourse where the focus isn’t solely on the match itself, but also on the anticipation of the home crowd’s reception for their captain. Yet, such is the scenario unfolding this season. There’s a sense of suspense in the air in Mumbai as to how the 33,000-capacity crowd at Wankhede will welcome Mumbai Indians skipper Hardik Pandya when he walks into the middle for the coin toss.

MI fans have been loyal to their team and the players who have led the esteemed franchise. However, a discernible shift has occurred since Pandya took over the captaincy from Rohit.

The fans’ discontent was palpable when Pandya assumed the captaincy for the first time in the blue and gold jersey in Ahmedabad against his former team, Gujarat Titans.

However, their reaction was somewhat justified as Pandya departed from GT, prompting criticism from fans who admired him for his contributions to the Gujarat-based franchise. While it’s common for home team fans to jeer at the opposition, scrutinising their own skipper ignites debates. In Ahmedabad, Shubman Gill, despite being new to the captaincy role, garnered support, which bolstered his confidence to make effective decisions and guide his team to victory over Pandya’s MI.

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Jasprit Bumrah, Rohit Sharma and others for MI
Jasprit Bumrah, Rohit Sharma and others for MI (PC: MI/X)

Needless to say, fan support plays a significant role, especially when you’re playing at your home ground. The last thing MI would want is for the fans wearing MI jerseys to go after their own captain. Even Pandya would be hoping to receive a better reception than what he did in Ahmedabad and Hyderabad.

Just a day before their game against Rajasthan Royals, MI leg-spinner Piyush Chawla claimed that Pandya has remained unaffected by the trolls. “The way Hardik has taken it… he is just focusing on the game, he is not even worried about what the crowd is doing, and once we get a win under our belt, things will be totally different.”

Although it sounds great that these things are not bothering Pandya, from what we’ve seen of him as a player or captain, he’s not looking like the Pandya of old. There’s something that’s not going right with him. Doesn’t matter if you accept it or not, highlight it or not, but a few things can get under your skin, and MI fans not supporting Pandya is one of them.

The pressure during the toss will not be on Rajasthan Royals skipper Sanju Samson, but on Pandya as everyone is unsure of what kind of reception he will get in a stadium where he has won so many games in the Blue and Gold jersey.

Sanju Samson, Rohit Sharma and Yuzuvenra Chahal
Sanju Samson, Rohit Sharma and Yuzuvenra Chahal (PC: RR/X)

This game is very important, not just because Mumbai Indians haven’t won a game so far and they’ll be looking to end their losing streak at Wankhede Stadium, considered their fortress. Mumbai Indians have started the season with a couple of losses. However, they are not new to such situations, but something must be done before things get out of hand.

They’re living up to the tag of being ‘IPL’s perennial slow-starters’. Only two games have passed in the tournament, yet Pandya already appears burdened with concerns in his second stint with the Mumbai Indians, as the leadership aspect has yet to find its footing.

Observers of the IPL from a distance might find it puzzling to comprehend how a team with formidable batting prowess, backed by Jasprit Bumrah and Gerald Coetzee for pace, not to forget Chawla’s spin, finds itself at the bottom of the table.

Their opposition has won two games on the trot. Despite Jos Buttler and Yashasvi Jaiswal not yet coming into the party, RR have shown that they have depth and talent in their squad. Not to forget their bowling resources. The addition of Nandre Burger has bolstered their bowling attack. Riyan Parag has been the standout so far. Samson has looked good. In all truthfulness, Mumbai Indians will have to punch above their weight in order to clinch a victory.

Rohit Sharma and Ashwin
Rohit Sharma and Ashwin (PC: RR/X)

MI has a golden opportunity here, boasting a formidable home record with a 60 per cent win rate. In their 27-game rivalry, the Blue and Gold have secured victory in 15 encounters, giving them the edge. Additionally, the head-to-head record tilts in favour of the home side. Nonetheless, the present form indicates a different outcome may be in store.

The ambience has been far from welcoming since Pandya assumed the captaincy mantle. The outcomes have only exacerbated the situation – two matches, two losses, coupled with confounding tactics and Pandya’s personal performance lacking its usual brilliance. Within the tournament’s opening week, Pandya finds himself backed into a corner. The home team and Pandya alike need the steadfast backing of their fans to veer away from the road to defeat and navigate towards victory once more.

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