Is Hardik Pandya and Mumbai Indians' IPL 2024 season already at tipping point?

Mumbai have lost three out of three, with fans continuing to target new captain

Rajasthan Royals' Riyan Parang, left, shakes hands with Mumbai Indians' captain Hardik Pandya after their match at the Wankhede Stadium on Monday. Rajasthan won the match by six wickets. AP
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Three matches in a little over a week in a tournament that goes on for two months is hardly enough to gauge the prospects of a team in the Indian Premier League.

But for Mumbai Indians and their new captain Hardik Pandya, the horizon looks dark and gloomy.

The franchise is famous for starting poorly, gathering speed only later in the tournament. But that was when they had their ducks in a row. This year, the setbacks started well before the tournament began and have only continued.

On Monday, Rajasthan Royals beat Mumbai Indians by six wickets with almost five overs to spare in the first match of the 2024 IPL season season at Mumbai's home Wankhede Stadium.

It was a critical match for Mumbai and the toughest assignment for Pandya, who had seen fans jeer, boo and, sadly, abuse him in the previous two games upset over the removal of Rohit Sharma as captain.

Well before the tournament started, it was clear Pandya would face the wrath of Mumbai and Rohit fans, who had made their feelings clear on social media for months. Even senior Mumbai players had maintained their distance from the drama on social media, with no one saying a word on the manner in which Rohit was unceremoniously dumped and Pandya brought in from Gujarat Titans.

A few cursory "we have decided to move on" statements from the Mumbai Indians coaching staff was nowhere near enough to quell the anger. Fans waited for the matches to begin and have targeted Pandya, in particular, with vengeance.

On Monday, Pandya was booed at the toss. TV presenter Sanjay Manjrekar admonished the crowd, asking them to "behave". Former England captain Eoin Morgan said he has never seen a home team captain treated like this.

Mumbai players did not help matters. Opener Rohit was out for a first-ball duck as the top order was blown away by the fiery pace of Trent Boult and Nandre Burger.

Pandya tried to counter-attack with the team tottering at 20-4. But just as he was opening up with a few boundaries, and the crowd beginning to cheer him for the first time, he got out for 34 off 21 balls.

A total of 125-9 was well below par, even though both seamers and spinners were getting purchase. Mumbai needed a slice of luck while bowling but it wasn't to be. Pandya dropped a difficult chance of Jos Buttler off the bowling of Jasprit Bumrah in the fourth over. It was met with deafening boos from the crowd.

The situation got so out of control former captain Rohit was seen at the boundary ropes pleading the crowd, with folded hands, to quiet down.

Mumbai and Pandya had enough by that point. A few wickets did fall soon but Rajasthan had too much batting power left in the tank. Young batsman Riyan Parag smashed 54 from 39 balls to bring an early end to the proceedings, handing Mumbai their third defeat in three games.

Pandya later said his wicket was the turning point.

"I think we were in a decent position to get 150-160. But I think my wicket changed the game. I think I could have done better," he said in the post-match presentation.

Everyone knew it was going to be bad but very few expected it to get so ugly. According to reports, Mumbai police had deployed personnel in civilian clothes in the stands in order to prevent any untoward incidents. But the damage has already been done and there is not a lot anyone can do once the entire stadium joins in.

For now, Mumbai can only hope fans let the team and Pandya play in peace and salvage a season that is unravelling fast.

There are implications beyond IPL as well. Rohit is the all-format captain of the national team and he will be leading Pandya in the T20 World Cup in June. The state in which Pandya finds himself him in by the end of the IPL could well have a bearing on what happens in the Caribbean and the US.

Updated: April 02, 2024, 9:04 AM