Captaincy fiasco and its negative effect on stars in India and Pakistan

Mumbai Indians is at fault for the Hardik Pandya mess. And how Babar Azam, and Shaheen Afridi can learn from Imran Khan and Javed Miandad


Rituraj Borkakoty

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The four central characters: (from left) Babar Azam, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Hardik Pandya and Rohit Sharma. — AFP/IPL
The four central characters: (from left) Babar Azam, Shaheen Shah Afridi, Hardik Pandya and Rohit Sharma. — AFP/IPL

Published: Fri 5 Apr 2024, 1:23 AM

It’s not without some irony that cricket’s two most famous rivals, India and Pakistan, are now facing a very complex captaincy conundrum, albeit at different levels of the game.

The aftermath of a controversial change in captaincy in the Indian Premier League (IPL), one of the world’s richest sporting events, has led to merciless abuse against a star player.

Across the border, the change in the national team’s captaincy turned out to be an absolute PR disaster for the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB).

The four central characters in the two potboilers are Hardik Pandya, Rohit Sharma, Babar Azam and Shaheen Shah Afridi.

Mumbai Indians skipper Pandya has become the most abused player in cricket history, with his own team’s fans turning on him for apparently plotting his return to the five-time IPL champions as captain, replacing Rohit, the fan favourite.

Across the border, it’s the game of musical chairs at the PCB which has pitted their two best players, Babar and Shaheen, against each other.

Babar returned as white-ball skipper to replace Shaheen who was given only one series to prove his leadership credentials after the former had stepped down as captain from all formats of the game following Pakistan’s inauspicious World Cup campaign last year in India.

Perhaps, in both instances, there would have been no mess if the decision-makers had made the wise moves.

The Mumbai mess

No sane mind would blame Pandya for eyeing the Mumbai captaincy. After all, it’s a franchise that refused to retain him in 2022, allowing him to join the new team Gujarat Titans.

Without any leadership experience, Pandya was given the Gujarat captaincy. It was a move that turned out to be a masterstroke as the flamboyant all-rounder showed great maturity and resilience in leading the team to a memorable title triumph in their debut season.

Pandya backed that up with another solid performance last season, coming close to winning the title again as they lost a nail-biting final match to Chennai Super Kings.

So when Mumbai wanted Pandya to return for IPL 2024, he had all the right to ask for the captaincy, even if that meant replacing Rohit, his national team skipper and the man who guided Mumbai to five IPL titles.

There has been no official statement if Pandya stated his wish to return only as captain, but speculations were rife about his ambitions to lead Mumbai Indians.

And when the powerful franchise made the announcement last year, making him the new captain, pundits predicted a divided dressing room.

While Rohit seemed to have handled the loss of his coveted position well, his fans have reacted with unprecedented anger.

In each of the three MI matches so far this season, Pandya has been greeted with incessant whistles and boos from the fans.

The team have looked listless in all three games, losing without putting up a fight. Pandya looks rattled on the field where a barrage of boos torments him every time he picks up the ball to throw.

As captain, he looks bereft of ideas and his lack of big scores has only compounded the misery.

Dilip Vengsarkar, the legendary Indian batsman who was a product of the ‘Bombay’ cricket system, blames the Mumbai Indians management for this fiasco.

“I don't know who took this decision, but whoever took this decision probably lacked experience of top-level cricket,” the former Indian captain told the Khaleej Times over the phone from Mumbai.

Former Indian captain Dilip Vengsarkar. — X
Former Indian captain Dilip Vengsarkar. — X

“I mean if you look at Chennai Super Kings, they have done it so much better, MS Dhoni stepped down and gave the captaincy to a young player, Ruturaj Gaikwad, who has done well as captain in the first few games.

“It showed that Chennai had a proper transition plan, allowing a young player to lead with Dhoni remaining as a senior player and mentor. I think the Mumbai Indians could have done the same.”

The extreme reaction from the fans, according to Vengsarkar, is the result of their emotional connection with Rohit whose leadership played a big role in building the Mumbai Indians empire.

“Mumbai fans can be very emotional and passionate about their cricket. We have seen that in the Ranji Trophy (India’s premier domestic tournament where Mumbai is the most successful team). They are very proud of their players, and Rohit is a Mumbai boy and he is the Indian captain who is a product of the Mumbai cricket system,” Vengsarkar said.

“So I think the fans have not been able to accept the fact that he has lost the Mumbai Indians captaincy. After all, he is a five-time IPL-winning captain, the most successful captain. But having said that, franchise cricket is different. It's not a Ranji team or the Indian national team. The way a team functions in franchise leagues is very different.”

Now the only way to stop things from spiralling out of control is by winning matches on the field.

“If Mumbai start winning and if Hardik starts performing and leading from the front, fans will stop booing at the stadiums,” he said.

“So they need to win matches and Hardik needs to score the big ones.”

For that to happen, Mumbai need to win their first match of the season when they take on Delhi Capitals at the Wankhede on Sunday.

Anything less than a victory might spell doom for Pandya in Mumbai where fans could be baying for his blood.

The PCB drama

On the other side of the border, the captaincy drama was the result of instability in Pakistan’s cricket board where regimes can change at the drop of a hat. And where cricket is deeply connected with the political fortunes of the country.

“The main problem in Pakistan cricket is at the top. We have seen so many new chairmen in the last few years, every time there is a new chairman, he brings his people,” said Shahid Hashmi, a veteran Pakistani cricket writer and broadcaster.

Shahid Hashmi (left) with Pakistani cricketer Hasan Ali. — Facebook
Shahid Hashmi (left) with Pakistani cricketer Hasan Ali. — Facebook

“The selectors change, the staff change. So now we have a new chairman (Mohsin Naqvi) who has decided that Babar Azam should be the captain, not Shaheen Shah Afridi.

“It’s an injustice to Shaheen because he got only one series (against New Zealand) to lead, that’s not enough to prove yourself as captain.”

The drama unfolded after Shaheen reportedly expressed shock following a PCB statement which had quotes attributed to him.

Shaheen was quoted as saying by the PCB that he would offer full support to Babar after being replaced by the star batsman as the white-ball skipper.

The fast-bowling superstar reportedly denied making that statement, leaving the PCB red-faced.

Hashmi says Babar will face a huge challenge to clean up the mess when he returns to lead what looks like a fractured team for this month’s T20 series against New Zealand at home.

“Babar will face some big challenges, first of all, he has to win back the confidence of the players which he lost during the World Cup,” Hashmi said, referring to Babar’s poor captaincy at the World Cup.

“He is not a popular captain at the moment. He must speak to Mohammad Rizwan (wicketkeeper-batsman and a senior player) who was one of the contenders for captaincy. He must also speak to Shaheen who he has replaced.

“Then there is Mohammed Amir, who was not selected in Babar’s first stint as captain and you have Imad Wasim. So these are the players he needs to speak to and regain their confidence. It’s a big challenge.”

Pakistan’s cricket has a history of bitter individual rivalry with their two most iconic players, Imran Khan and Javed Miandad, never sharing a bond of trust off the field.

But those two legends never allowed their personal differences and captaincy ambitions to come in the way of their collective performance on the field.

Hashmi agrees that Shaheen and Babar need to take a leaf out of the two greats’ book.

“Yes, Babar and Shaheen have to learn how Imran Khan and Javed Miandad set their differences aside when they were on the field to play for Pakistan,” he said.

“As I said, he needs to win back the confidence. And also it’s going to be important how he deals with Shaheen, he has to treat him with care because the man must be hurting after losing the captaincy.

“Both Babar and Shaheen, being the two best players in the team, have to ensure they rise above all these issues for the sake of Pakistan cricket.”


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