MI set to retain Pandya as captain

Hardik Pandya for the Mumbai Indian’s (Source X)

Mumbai Indians have retained their faith in Hardik Pandya. RevSportz has learnt the franchise will go to next year’s mega auction with him as the captain. This is despite MI’s early elimination in this year’s IPL, after losing eight matches out of 12 so far. Pandya replaced Rohit Sharma as captain this season.

According to a source, the franchise is willing to give Pandya time in his new role, as the management sees him as a long-term appointment. The team will undergo a rebuild next year and the all-rounder is considered to be the best option to take them forward.

The MI management is disappointed with this year’s performance, but there would be no knee-jerk reaction. “It was sort of expected that this year would be a learning phase for Pandya. It wasn’t easy to take charge of a team of MI’s size and straightaway hit the ground running. Pandya will improve as a captain,” said the source.

Pandya made a stunning transfer from Gujarat Titans to MI, reportedly for Rs 15 crore, ahead of the 2024 IPL auction. The 30-year-old was immensely successful as GT skipper, winning the title in 2022 and taking his team to the final next year. However, in a star-studded MI dressing room, Pandya’s promotion was initially met with a lukewarm response. The move didn’t go down well with the MI fans either. A section of them booed Pandya and trolled him on social media. The management, however, shut out the outside noise.

Only a few weeks ago, MI’s batting coach Kieron Pollard threw his weight behind the skipper even after MS Dhoni clobbered Pandya for three sixes in an over. MI lost the game to Chennai Super Kings by 20 runs. “He (Pandya) is a confident guy. He has been great around the group,” Pollard had said.

He also slammed fans and pundits for blaming the skipper for the team’s indifferent season. “This is an individual that is going to represent the country in less than six weeks, and all are going to cheer him and want him to do well. So high time we try to encourage and stop nitpicking and see if we can get the best out of one of the great all-rounders India has produced.”

The source insisted that there’s no dressing room discord over Pandya’s captaincy. “Meetings and differences of opinion are normal in any team. It happens in every sport. In top-level football, it happens every weekend. Pandya is the MI captain, but the team has a strong leadership group that includes Rohit and (Jasprit) Bumrah as well. Any suggestion of a discord is laughable. Let alone this term, in 2022, when the team had lost eight games on the spin, even that time there was no friction in the dressing room,” said the source.

Of course, the team management expected a better IPL from Pandya. A tally of 198 runs from 12 matches with a strike-rate of 147.76 has been below par from a player expected to play a few match-winning innings. A couple of impact knocks from Pandya might have kept MI in the reckoning. At the same time, this can happen in cricket, to any player.

Pandya’s bowling, too, wasn’t up to the mark to start with, but he improved in the last three games, claiming 2/26, 2/44 and 3/31 against Lucknow Super Giants, Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad, respectively. “What I am seeing is the guy is evolving. We, as individuals, want to see certain things but sometimes the game doesn’t demand certain things and players are going to make mistakes as you go along, as we all have done. The individual has put in the work and hard work pays off,” Pollard said.

As for Rohit, according to the source, he contributed in a positive way despite losing captaincy. “The decision to relieve Rohit of captaincy was taken to ensure he could focus fully on batting. He has been reinventing himself as a white-ball batter and it was thought that it would be appropriate to give him the required space.” Rohit started strongly before hitting a bad patch.

The retention rule for next year’s mega auction hasn’t been finalised yet. RevSportz understands that it could be between three to five players. Will Rohit be retained? “Rohit has a very good rapport with the MI hierarchy and they will definitely have a word. Players usually remain tight-lipped on such issues,” said the source.